January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye’s optic nerve which can result in vision loss and blindness. More than 2 million Americans aged 40 and older suffer from glaucoma. Nearly half do not know they have the disease – it has no early symptoms. The good news is that with regular eye exams and early detection it is possible to treat glaucoma and prevent serious vision loss.

Understanding Your Glaucoma Diagnosis

The diagnosis of glaucoma is made when your eye doctor notices a particular type of damage in the optic nerve known as “cupping.” This diagnostic finding can occur with or without high intraocular pressure.

Large studies have shown that eye pressure is a major risk factor for optic nerve damage. A normal intraocular pressure (IOP) ranges between 12 and 22 mmHg (millimeters of mercury, a measurement of pressure). One person’s high pressure may be another person’s normal pressure, though, so it is important to test eye pressure over time to monitor for any changes. While it is more likely that you will have or develop glaucoma if your eye pressures are high, many people with high eye pressures never develop glaucoma. Furthermore, some people with glaucoma never have high eye pressures. Glaucoma with eye pressure in the normal range is known as “normal-tension glaucoma.”

High blood pressure is also a risk factor for optic nerve health. Make sure your blood pressure is at a proper level by maintaining regular checkups with your Medical Doctor.

How Glaucoma Affects Sight

Glaucoma is an eye disease that gradually steals vision. There are typically no early warning signs or painful symptoms of open-angle glaucoma. It develops slowly and sometimes without noticeable sight loss for many years.

Most people who have open-angle glaucoma feel fine and do not notice a change in their vision at first because the initial loss of vision is of side or peripheral vision, and the visual acuity or sharpness of vision is maintained until late in the disease.

By the time a patient is aware of vision loss, the disease is usually quite advanced. Without proper treatment, glaucoma can lead to permanent narrowing of vision and blindness. Immediate treatment of early stage glaucoma can delay progression of the disease. Medicare covers an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam for some people at high risk. There are also low vision services and devices available to help make the most of remaining vision.

Further information can be found online at Prevent Blindness America.