As the second-leading cause of blindness in the world, glaucoma is a serious health condition that often goes undetected. An estimated 2.2 million Americans have the eye disease, but half of them don’t know it. In observance of Glaucoma Awareness Month, we encourage you to learn more about the disease, including warning signs. Most importantly, take this opportunity to schedule an eye exam and speak with the doctor about your personal risk factors.
So what is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain. In most cases, increased pressure causes the damage, which can lead to permanent loss of vision if not treated. With open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease, there are usually no symptoms prior to vision loss—and since the loss is slow and begins with peripheral or side vision, it can go unnoticed.
Anyone can develop glaucoma, and at any age, but certain factors increase one’s risk. African Americans, for example, experience greater incidence, as do adults over 60. Family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics and people who are severely nearsighted also may develop glaucoma more easily.
There is no cure for glaucoma, but further vision loss can be prevented with proper treatment. The key is early detection and treatment. High-risk patients should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam every year or two after age 35. Older adults should also get tested this frequently as well. Treatment for glaucoma varies depending on the type and its stage. Medications, surgery, laser treatments and/or eye drops can halt progression of the disease and help manage symptoms.
Loss of contrast sensitivity, problems with glare and sensitivity to light are three possible effects of glaucoma that may interfere with daily activities. The Vision Council offers these tips to help relieve the symptoms of glaucoma:
• Follow your doctor’s orders. It is very important that glaucoma patients stick to a medication routine and schedule regular checkups with an eye doctor. Medications should be taken at the time of regular daily activities such as brushing one’s teeth or eating lunch so that the habit becomes routine.
• Consider tinted lenses to help with glare and contrast. Yellow, amber and brown tinted lenses reduce the glare from fluorescent lights and can help make activities such as driving easier. On a bright day, try using sunglasses with a brown lens; on overcast days or at night, switch to yellow and amber tints.
• Use devices that are geared toward people with low vision. Many electronic devices have options such as large display screens that make seeing and reading easier. Another option is to manually increase the font size. Watches, too, come with bigger faces and buttons that are easier to read and use. There are also a wide variety of low vision devices available through your low vision specialist to improve visual acuity while completing near, intermediate, and distance tasks.
• Practice eye safety. Try to keep your eyes clean and free of irritants. Women should be careful about eye cosmetics, use nonallergenic brands and replace them often. It’s also important to wear protective glasses when working in the yard or playing contact sports.
For more information about glaucoma, visit www.glaucoma.org/glaucoma/glaucoma-facts-and-stats.php
If you or someone you know has glaucoma, what other aids, devices and support do you recommend?