Did you know that glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African-Americans and the second leading cause of blindness across the United States? It is estimated that two to three million people in the United States suffer from glaucoma. Over half of the people with glaucoma do not even know that they have the disease because there are no early warning signs of the most of glaucoma: no pain, no loss of vision. This is why glaucoma is called the “sneak thief of vision.” By the time a person develops symptoms, considerable and irreversible loss of vision has already occurred. Lack of awareness of the disease, and lack of treatment can lead to further reduction in vision and may even lead to blindness.
The good news is that vision loss caused by glaucoma can be prevented if identified early enough in the course of the disease. Just as important, is that visual damage caused by glaucoma can either be halted or slowed with early detection and proper treatment. Early detection is the answer!
WHAT IS GLAUCOMA?
Glaucoma is a chronic disease in which the optic nerve is damaged, typically by a build up of pressure, within the eye. The optic nerve carries the information about what we see in the world to our brain for processing. Over time, the increased pressure destroys the fibers of the optic nerve thus making its job of sending visual images to the brain more and more difficult. That is how vision loss develops.
There are several types of glaucoma, and each are different. Open angle glaucoma makes up 98% of glaucoma in the United States. It is chiefly treated with eye drops to lower the eye pressure.~ Closed angle glaucoma is different. A person can have low eye pressure readings, but the part of their eye that drains the eye fluid can close down suddenly and the pressure in the eye will spike to dangerously high levels. If detected early, people with closed angle glaucoma will be treated preventively with laser therapy to stop an angle closure attack from ever occurring at all. There are rare forms of glaucoma, such as congenital and normal pressure glaucoma, that can also be diagnosed with an eye exam.
All forms of glaucoma, if untreated, can cause loss of vision and blindness. Open angle glaucoma develops gradually and painlessly, without early symptoms. In later stages, symptoms of open-angle glaucoma occur, including:
· loss of peripheral vision
· difficulty focusing on close work
· seeing colored rings or halos around lights
· headaches and eye pain
· frequent change of prescription glasses
· difficulty adjusting eyes to the dark
Anyone, at any age, can develop glaucoma. Therefore, everyone should have their eyes checked regularly. However certain people have risk factors that can increase their chances of having this disease. The incidence of glaucoma increases after the age of 45. You are at even greater risk if you are over 45 and:
· you have a family history of glaucoma
· you are African American
· you have diabetes
· you are very nearsighted
Remember: Early detection can make a significant and positive difference in the vision of a person with glaucoma. Because vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible, it is important to get regular and complete eye exams. If you are in one of the risk groups mentioned above, and you have not had an eye exam with the last year, as part of National Glaucoma Awareness month, call your optometrist or ophthalmologist today and schedule an appointment to have your eyes screened for glaucoma.
For more information about glaucoma, here are some helpful websites and telephone numbers:
The National Eye Institute is part of the U.S. National Institutes of Health. Its website contains excellent information about glaucoma, its diagnosis and treatment, along with diagrams and a superb list of links to many other fine resources about the eye.
National Eye Institute
2020 Vision Place
Bethesda, MD 20892-3655
The Glaucoma Foundation also provides excellent information, including a superb Patient Guide with a thorough overview of the disease, its diagnosis, and treatment, and a description of the various medications used to treat glaucoma. To get the guide go to the website and on the left-hand menu click “Patient Guide.” You can also get the guide by calling The Glaucoma Foundation directly.
The Glaucoma Foundation
80 Maiden Lane, Suite 1206
New York, NY 10038
Telephone - (212) 285-0080
Fax - (212) 651-1888
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs offers veterans information about glaucoma and eye health care benefits. If you are a veteran you can get this information by calling your local VA hospital, or calling 1-800-827-1000, or visiting The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs’ website at http://www.va.gov. The following link has a description of glaucoma, with a photograph depicting the kind of visual loss since in glaucoma in the following document:
So that we may learn more about how we are screening for glaucoma locally, won’t you please take a few more minutes to complete this confidential survey?
Wishing you the best of health,
Ilene J. Klein M.D.
Ilene J. Klein, M.D.
Health Care Access
County of Dukes County
With appreciation to David Finkelstein O.D. and George Santos, Jr. O.D. for their thoughtful review and comments.
Please take a moment to fill out our glaucoma survey by clicking on the link below.