Nearly 3 million Americans are estimated to have glaucoma, but only half of those are aware they have the disease. It can’t be cured—but it can be treated if it’s detected early enough.
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. The idea of glaucoma awareness, though, is sadly ironic, when you consider that early-stage glaucoma has few or no symptoms. In fact, nearly half of Americans with glaucoma don’t even know they have it, according to the National Eye Institute and Prevent Blindness America. Worse still, there’s currently no cure for glaucoma, and once vision is lost, it can’t be regained. Over 120,000 Americans are blind from glaucoma—between 9-to-12% of all blindness cases, reports the Glaucoma Research Foundation.
Seniors are at high risk for glaucoma, and with a growing population of seniors, there could be an epidemic of blindness looming if those with glaucoma go undiagnosed or untreated. That’s why it’s of critical importance to get regular eye examinations from an optometrist, particularly if you or your loved ones show any early warning signs or are in a high risk group.
Glaucoma is actually a group of diseases that affect the optic nerve and lead to irreversible vision loss. Different types of glaucoma present different early warning signs—and sometimes there are no symptoms, particularly in open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease. However, if you experience any of the following symptoms, you should seek immediate help:
- Loss of peripheral or side vision. This is usually the first sign of vision loss due to glaucoma.
- Seeing halos around lights. If you see rainbow-colored circles around lights or are unusually sensitive to light, it could be a sign of glaucoma.
- Vision loss, especially if it happens suddenly.
- Redness in the eye accompanied by pain may be a sign of injury, infection, or acute glaucoma.
- Eye that looks hazy. A cloudy-looking cornea is the most common early sign of childhood glaucoma.
- Nausea or vomiting, especially when it accompanies severe eye pain.
- Pain in the eye and in the head often occur in angle-closure glaucoma, a type of glaucoma which can develop quickly.
- Narrowing of vision (tunnel vision). You may start to lose vision around the edges of your visual field.
Who Is at Risk for Glaucoma?
One of the keys to glaucoma prevention is knowing whether you or your loved ones are at increased risk. Those with a higher risk should get a complete eye exam every one to two years, recommends the Glaucoma Research Group. You may be at risk for glaucoma if you:
- Are of African-American, Irish, Russian, Japanese or other Asian, Hispanic, Inuit, or Scandinavian descent.
- Are over age 40, and particularly if you are over age 60.
- Have a family history of glaucoma.
- Have poor vision, particularly if you have extreme nearsightedness or a very thin cornea.
- Have diabetes.
- Have hypertension or extremely low blood pressure.
- Take certain steroid medications, such as prednisone.
- Have had an eye injury.
Though most types of glaucoma cannot be prevented, early detection and ongoing monitoring of eye health can limit the vision loss caused by glaucoma. Make sure you and your family members are aware of the risks and symptoms, and “keep an eye” on your visual health. And please let us know in the comments if you or a senior loved one has been affected by glaucoma—when was it detected? Did you have any early warning signs?