Early detection critical to treating glaucoma, preventing blindness
LANSING: Maintaining healthy vision requires frequent or regularly scheduled appointments with your optometrist. An estimated 200 million U.S.-Americans do not seek professional eye care services, and therefore are putting their vision and their quality of life at risk, according to the Michigan Optometric Association (MOA).
Glaucoma—often called the “silent blinder” because it can occur with little or no symptoms—is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. According to the National Eye Institute, more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of them know it. Glaucoma most often occurs in people over age 40. People who are very nearsighted, diabetic or who have a family history of glaucoma are also at high risk for the disease.
According to the American Optometric Association’s 2007 American Eye-Q® survey, 67 percent of Americans believe glaucoma is preventable. In reality, the disease cannot be prevented, although it is treatable if caught in the early stages. The annual American Eye-Q® survey identifies attitudes and behaviors of Americans regarding eye care and related issues.
“Glaucoma is a disease that can damage the eye’s optic nerve and result in vision loss and potential blindness, said Dr. Gregory Dotson, member of the MOA. “This occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eye increases over time. The most common type of glaucoma develops gradually and painlessly, without symptoms. A more rare type occurs rapidly, and its symptoms may include blurred vision, loss of side vision, seeing colored rings around lights, and pain or redness in the eyes.”
Since vision lost to glaucoma cannot be restored, regular, comprehensive eye examinations are important for people at risk. A comprehensive optometric examination includes a tonometry test to measure pressure in the eyes; an examination of the inside of the eyes and optic nerves; and a visual field test to check for changes in central and side vision.
According to the American Health Assistance Foundation, African-Americans and Latinos have a greater risk for developing glaucoma – and, as a result, blindness – than any other racial groups in the United States, although the reason for this isn’t understood.
Recent health studies among Latinos document that in older age groups, the risk of glaucoma is nearly as high as it is for African-Americans. Of even greater concern, the Glaucoma Research Foundation recently found that 65 to 75 percent of Latinos with glaucoma are undiagnosed.
Treatment for glaucoma includes prescription eye drops and medicines to lower pressure in the eyes. In some cases, laser treatment or surgery may be effective in reducing pressure.
“Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early, it can be controlled to prevent or slow continued vision loss,” said Dr. Dotson. “Losing your sight can be devastating, so there is no substitute for doing all you can to maintain your eye health through regular exams.”