Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that affect the optic nerve – the vital link between your eye and your brain. Since glaucoma has no symptoms, it’s estimated that up to 40% of a sufferer’s vision can disappear without them noticing. The World Health Organization has estimated that nearly 4.5 million people around the world have gone blind because of glaucoma.
There are two types: open-angle and closed-angle glaucoma. Open-angle glaucoma (OAG) is caused by poor outflow of the drainage canals in your eye, resulting in increased pressure. OAG, the most common form of glaucoma, has no symptoms, develops over a number of years, and can cause gradual and permanent vision loss.
Closed-angle glaucoma (CAG), the less common form of the two in the US, is caused by a mechanical obstruction in the drainage system inside of the eye, resulting in a sudden rise in pressure. With this type of glaucoma there are noticeable symptoms of acute eye pain, nausea, decreased or blurry vision, headache, and/or eye redness. It can result in rapid damage to the eye from very high eye pressure and requires emergency medical attention in order to preserve sight in the eye.
Glaucoma is often referred to as the "silent thief of sight" because it has no symptoms in the early stages. Experts estimate that half of all people with glaucoma have no idea that their vision is in jeopardy. That’s why January has been designated as National Glaucoma Awareness Month.
1. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness
According to the World Health Organization, Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, with an estimated 60 million cases worldwide. In the U.S. alone, more than 120,000 people are blind from the disease. Experts believe that over 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of those know they have it.
2. There's no cure for glaucoma (yet)
Glaucoma is not curable, and once vision is lost, it cannot be restored. Since glaucoma has no symptoms, the only way to truly ensure you are protected is to get routine comprehensive eye exams. While lost vision cannot be restored, treatment can begin immediately after detection. Everyone 40 years of age and older should be getting regular screenings. Early detection is truly the best way to protect your sight.
3. Everyone is at risk
Unfortunately, everyone from babies to senior citizens are at risk for glaucoma. Older people are more likely to develop glaucoma than others, but babies can be born with glaucoma. If you have a family member who has already been diagnosed, you have a higher probability to develop glaucoma than someone who doesn’t.
Glaucoma is 6-8 times more prevalent among African Americans than Caucasians. People over the age of 60, diabetics and people with severe nearsightedness are also at a higher risk.
4. Awareness and education is vital
As we mentioned before, many people with glaucoma don’t even know they have it yet – and that’s why it’s important to take Glaucoma Awareness Month seriously. Talk to your friends about the importance of glaucoma screenings for everyone over the age of 40, and bring family members along for an eye exam. If you or someone you know has glaucoma, use this opportunity to spread awareness and information. Doing your part could help save someone’s vision this year.
Contact Illinois Eye Center at (309) 243-2400 to schedule your next eye exam or visit our website for more information.