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Glaucoma Awareness Month

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. Vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. Although the most common forms primarily affect individuals who are middle-aged and the elderly, glaucoma can affect people of all ages.

Currently, more than three million people in the United States have glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects this number will reach 4.2 million by 2030 – just 10 years. Glaucoma is called "the sneak thief of sight" since there are no symptoms and once vision is lost, it's permanent. As much as 40% of vision can be lost without a person noticing and it is the leading cause of irreversible blindness.

Woman getting eye drops

Anyone can get glaucoma, but certain groups are at higher risk. These groups include African Americans over age 40, all people over age 60, people with a family history of glaucoma, and people who have diabetes. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness among African-Americans. And, among Hispanics in older age groups, the risk of glaucoma is nearly as high as that for African-Americans.

There are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), and angle-closure glaucoma. These are marked by an increase in intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure inside the eye. When optic nerve damage has occurred despite a normal IOP, this is called normal tension glaucoma.

Secondary glaucoma refers to any case in which another disease causes or contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in optic nerve damage and vision loss.

In POAG, the most common form, there are virtually no symptoms. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision, so if you have glaucoma, you may not notice anything until significant vision is lost.

Because vision loss due to glaucoma can't be recovered, it's important to have regular eye exams. Comprehensive eye exams include measurements of your eye pressure in which a diagnosis can be made in its early stages and treated appropriately if necessary. If glaucoma is recognized early, vision loss can be slowed or prevented. If you have the condition, you'll generally need treatment for the rest of your life.

Glaucoma is treated with eye drops, oral medicine, or surgery to reduce pressure in the eye and prevent permanent vision loss. Maintaining a healthy weight, controlling your blood pressure, being physically active, and avoiding smoking will help you avoid vision loss from glaucoma. These healthy behaviors will also help prevent type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions.

If you have glaucoma, talk over your options with your doctor. While glaucoma is a serious disease, treatment works well. Remember these tips: 

  • If your doctor prescribes medicine, be sure to take it every day 
  • Tell your doctor if your treatment causes side effects 
  • See your doctor for regular check-ups 
  • If you’re having trouble with everyday activities because of your vision loss, ask your doctor about low vision services or devices that could help 
  • Encourage family members to get checked for glaucoma, since it can run in families

If you have any of the above risk factors and have not had an annual eye exam in the last year, call The Eye Institute at 215.276.6111 to make an appointment today at one of The Eye Institute’s practice locations