January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, an important time to spread the word about this sight-stealing disease.  Currently, 2.7 million people in the United States over age 40 have glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects this number will reach 4.2 million by 2030, a fifty-eight percent increase!

Over 2.7 million Americans, and over 60 million people worldwide, have glaucoma. Experts estimate that half of them are unaware that they have it. Combined with our aging population, we can see an epidemic of blindness looming if we don’t raise awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations to preserve vision. The World Health Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning, thus being called the “sneak thief of sight”, as there are no symptoms and once vision is lost, it’s permanent.  Up to forty per cent of vision can be lost without a person noticing. Although the most common forms primarily affect the middle-aged and the elderly, glaucoma can affect people of all ages.  Vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This nerve acts like an electric cable with over a million wires. It is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.

The two main types of glaucoma are: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), and angle-closure glaucoma. These are marked by an increase of intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure inside the eye. When optic nerve damage has occurred despite a normal IOP, this is called normal tension glaucoma. Secondary glaucoma refers to any case in which another disease es or contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in optic nerve damage and vision loss. Those at higher risk include people of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent. Other high-risk groups include: people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted. Regular eye exams are especially important for those at higher risk for glaucoma, and may help to prevent unnecessary vision loss.

In the United States, approximately 120,000 are blind from glaucoma, accounting for nine per cent to twelve per cent of all cases of blindness.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision, so if you have glaucoma, you may not notice anything until significant vision is lost. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get a comprehensive eye examination, because glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness.   Then, if you have been diagnosed with glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately. 

Another factor in maintaining your vision, is to wear the correct eye protection that fits your job.  Vision can be lost due to work-related injuries and other factors.  Please take care of your eyes, by having regular vision checkups and using eye protection while working, biking, yard work, or other activities.  Last, but not least, spread the word about glaucoma!