January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and, as the month approaches, people should give thought to scheduling an eye exam to guard against this “sneak thief of sight.”
According to the folks at Prevent Blindness America, only about half of Americans with glaucoma are aware of the problem.
Making matters worse, glaucoma has no warning signs until sight has already been diminished. Once sight has been lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the world, second only to cataracts, and the leading cause of blindness in Black Americans, according to the National Institutes of Health.
Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to damage of the optic nerve, visual field loss and ultimately complete loss of sight. It affects one in 200 people age 50 and younger, and one in 10 over the age of 80. “We can’t stress enough how vitally important it is to have your eyes examined by a professional to protect sight,” says Daniel D. Garrett, senior vice president of Prevent Blindness America. “There’s no cure for glaucoma yet, but treatment can be effective if glaucoma is detected and treated early.”
According to Prevent Blindness America research, glaucoma costs the U.S. economy $2.86 billion every year in direct medical costs for outpatient, inpatient and prescription drug services. Everyone is at risk for developing glaucoma. However, some factors that may increase the chance of having the disease include:
Age: The older you are, the greater your risk.
Race: Black Americans develop glaucoma four to five times more often than others. Black Americans are also likely to have glaucoma at a younger age.
Family history: If you have a parent, brother or sister with glaucoma, you are more likely to get glaucoma, too. If you have glaucoma, your family members should get complete eye exams.
Medical history: Diabetes, previous eye injuries, eye surgery or long-term steroid use can increase your risk of glaucoma.
For more information about glaucoma, visit Prevent Blindness America online at www.preventblindness.org/glaucoma.