By Dylan Deprey
As people look forward to the gift of the New Year, the gift of sight should also be in their sights because January is Glaucoma Awareness month.
Over 3 million Americans and 60 million people worldwide are reported to have glaucoma, and experts say only half of them actually know it.
Glaucoma is rightfully nicknamed “the sneak thief of sight” as there are no symptoms, and by the time symptoms are detected up to 40 percent of vision could be lost.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve, which is a bundle of nerves that transmits images from the eye to the brain.
Any damage to the millions of nerve fibers in the optic nerve can result in vision loss and blindness, according to the National Eye Institute (NEI).
Two Main Types of Glaucoma
The two main types of glaucoma are primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), and angle-closure glaucoma.
They are marked by increased pressure inside the eye, otherwise known as intraocular pressure (IOP).
Open-Angle Glaucoma is the most common form, and accounts for around 90 percent of all cases. The lifelong process occurs as drainage canals clog and increase eye pressure.
The term “open angle” stems from the wide-open angle between the iris and the cornea, which is normal in humans and part of the reason symptoms go unnoticed.
Angle-Closure Glaucoma is less common, but develops quickly. Unlike its counterpart, the symptoms and damage are highly noticeable.
Angle-Closure Glaucoma occurs when drainage canals are blocked and produce a rapid rise in eye pressure. As the name presents, the angle between the cornea and iris close narrowly, and usually requires urgent medical care.
According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF), Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in African Americans behind cataracts. African Americans are five times more likely to have glaucoma compared to other ethnic groups, and six times more likely to become blind because of it.
Although there has been extensive research into African Americans and glaucoma, other than possible genetic risks no specific link has been discovered. “With healthcare in general people don’t usually respond as quickly as they should unless they experience certain signs or symptoms,” said Dr. Ed Marshall, National Eye Health Education Program spokesperson.
“When you combine the lack of awareness about glaucoma, and the fact that it is one of those diseases that tend to not have symptoms early on, those two working together make glaucoma a disastrous disease,” Marshall said. Glaucoma can strike as early as 40-years-old in African Americans, which is around 10 years earlier than any other ethnic populations.
Yearly or bi-yearly comprehensive eye exams including glaucoma checks are recommended for African American adults 35 years and older.
“You can’t entirely prevent or cure it, but we can control it. The key to controlling glaucoma is early detection,” Marshall said.
Other risks that further increase the chance for glaucoma include: extreme nearsightedness, diabetes, hypertension, prolonged steroid use.
“Basic eye health tips is just to know your family history have a good diet, don’t smoke and wear protective eye wear,” Marshall said.