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Preventing Vision Loss from Glaucoma


More than 2.2 million Americans have it, and there are at least 65 million cases worldwide. The disease is glaucoma, an eye disorder that frequently robs people of their peripheral vision; left untreated, it can result in blindness. In fact, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. Worst of all, at least half of those who have the disease are not yet aware that it has taken hold.

In order to raise awareness of the disease, the Prevent Blindness America organization along with several other leading eye care groups have dubbed January 2007 National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Prevent Blindness America is the number one volunteer eye health and safety organization in the United States.

Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve. The optic nerve contains all of the connections between our retina and our brain. The connection of our eyes to our brains is absolutely necessary for sight to occur. Without our optic nerves, we would never see the images that the outside world projects onto our retinas.

In most cases of glaucoma, damage to the optic nerve results from increased pressure inside of the eye. Yet, in the vast majority of these cases, the pressure inside of the eye increases slowly, over several years. Therefore, glaucoma is usually a disease with no symptoms at all, until partial or even a complete loss of vision occurs. Despite the advances of modern medicine, we still have no way to repair vision loss once it happens. This is why early detection and treatment of glaucoma is so critical.

Anyone can get glaucoma, from infants to the elderly. However, the risk of developing the disease increases with age. Race is another risk factor for glaucoma: Black Americans are four to five times more likely to develop glaucoma than most other ethnic groups; Hispanic Americans are also at increased risk. If a relative has ever been diagnosed with glaucoma, this also predisposes one to the disease.

In late 2005, the American Academy of Ophthalmology revised its guidelines with regard to screening for eye diseases that often present without symptoms:

If you are under 40 without race or family history as risk factors, you should schedule a routine appointment with an ophthalmologist once every five years. Between the ages of 40 and 64, appointments should be scheduled once every two years. At or above the age of 65, the recommended frequency increases to once per year.

If you are Black or Latino or if you have had a relative with glaucoma, it is recommended that individuals under the age of 55 make a routine visit to an ophthalmologist once every two years. Between the ages of 55 and 64, appointments should be booked once per year. At the age of 65 and above, the recommended screening interval is once every six months.

What can you expect at these routine visits? Eye doctors will want to check for three things: damage to the optic nerve, loss of vision, and increased eye pressure. Perimetry is a procedure which involves staring straight ahead at a light, while attempting to spot other lights with your peripheral vision. Tonometry involves eye drops which numb the eye, followed by the use of an instrument which gently presses on the outside of the eye in order to estimate pressure inside of the eye. Doctors will also want to use eye drops to dilate the eye. In this way, they will be able to visualize your optic nerves.

Following a routine examination, should there be signs of glaucoma or increased eye pressure, your ophthalmologist may prescribe treatments in order to prevent damage to your eyes. Such treatments most commonly involve medicines, either in the form of eyedrops or pills. Laser sugery and traditional eye surgery may also be options, depending on the stage and type of disorder that may be found.

Prevent Blindess Image Courtesy of Prevent Blindness America
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