Blog: What You Should Know About Glaucoma

Alliance for Aging Research Team January 14, 2020 Blog, Vision Loss
Jeff Todd, President and CEO of Prevent Blindness

In recognition of Glaucoma Awareness Month, which takes place every January, we interviewed Jeff Todd, President & CEO of Prevent Blindness. Read below to learn what you need to know about glaucoma.

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Why do you think an awareness month for glaucoma is important?
According to our research, today, it is estimated that more than 3.2 million Americans ages 40 and over have glaucoma. Yet many people aren’t even aware that they have it! It is so important to educate everyone on the disease and on what steps can be taken to lessen significant impact. We focus on sharing this message year-round. January has simply become a month that we shine that light a bit brighter to increase awareness.

What is glaucoma, and what are the symptoms?
Glaucoma is an eye disease that is a leading cause of blindness in the world. With glaucoma, as fluid builds up in the eye, the excess fluid increases pressure, which damages the optic nerve. The optic nerve is what sends visual information to the brain. Symptoms of glaucoma begin slowly, which is why it’s often referred to as the “sneak thief of sight.” Those with glaucoma will usually begin to lose patches in their side, or peripheral, vision.

Who is at risk of getting glaucoma?
There are lots of risk factors, but the most common ones are:

  • Race – African-Americans age 40 and over are 4-5 times more likely to have glaucoma than others. Hispanics are also at increased risk for glaucoma as they age. Those of Asian and Native American descent are at increased risk for angle closure glaucoma.
  • Age – The older you are, the greater you are at risk (especially those over 60 years old).
  • Gender – More women than men have glaucoma.
  • Family History – If you have a direct relative with glaucoma, you are more likely to get glaucoma. If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, strongly encourage your family members to get complete eye exams.
  • Medical History – You are at higher risk if you have a history of high pressure in the eyes, previous eye injury, long term steroid use, or are farsighted or nearsighted.

How is glaucoma detected?
A routine eye exam and/or vision screening by a certified vision screener may be able to detect signs of glaucoma. A glaucoma suspecting vision screening would result in a referral to an eye doctor for a comprehensive eye exam, followed by a diagnosis and effective treatment plan, if necessary.

Does glaucoma lead to blindness?
Yes, it absolutely can. As of today, damage from glaucoma is permanent and cannot be reversed. Some cases may not lead to total blindness, but the impairment can limit from daily activities such as the ability to work, drive, and other things we often take for granted.

What treatments options are available for glaucoma?
Treatments vary from patient to patient, including eye drops to surgery. It is so important to talk to your eye doctor as soon as possible to put together a plan that is right for you.

What resources on glaucoma does Prevent Blindness provide?

Prevent Blindness offers a dedicated web page providing patients and their caregivers with free information at https://www.preventblindness.org/glaucoma. The page also includes free information on financial assistance programs, including Medicare coverage.

Prevent Blindness also has a very popular resource, “Living Well with Low Vision,” for those with low vision and their caretakers.  The site is designed to help people educate themselves about loss of vision and to meet the daily challenges resulting from it. Site resources include a self-help guide to nonvisual skills, a guide to caring for the visually impaired, and a range of resource directories, including a searchable database of more than 1,500 paratransit services around the country

What can people do to prevent glaucoma?
While we certainly encourage healthy lifestyles and behaviors as a preventative measure for eye and vision problems, there currently is no known preventive strategy for glaucoma. However, early and routine treatment has been shown to prevent or delay the vision-impacting harms of the condition. When eye diseases are detected and treated early, through regular routine eye exams, the damaging effects can be slowed. Also, always make sure to follow your treatment plan. By working directly with your eye care professional you can help save your precious gift of sight! What better year than the year 2020 to make a commitment to keeping your eyes healthy.