January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and we encourage all people, especially those at higher risk for this disease, to be aware of the need for regular eye examinations. Glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness in people over 60 years old, affects more than 3 million people in the United States. Glaucoma is a sight threatening eye disease that occurs when there is damage to the optic nerve, usually caused by changes in eye pressure. Glaucoma has no early warning signs and patients are usually symptom-less until the advanced stages. If not detected and treated early enough, it can result in slowly progressive peripheral vision loss which eventually leads to tunnel vision or blindness. Currently, there is no cure for this disease but there are treatments available that can stop or slow the progression and prevent vision loss.
There are steps that you can take to prevent this disease from stealing your sight. First, make sure you get a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Your eye doctor can detect early signs of glaucoma and start treatment if needed. The next thing is to be aware of the risk factors associated with glaucoma.
Who is at risk for Glaucoma?
You are at a greater risk for developing glaucoma if you:
- are over 40. Anyone can get glaucoma, even babies. But your risk increases with age, starting in your 40s. That risk goes up dramatically in your 60s when you are 6 times more likely to develop glaucoma.
- have family members with glaucoma. Sometimes you inherit traits that predispose you to certain diseases. That could be as simple as being in a family with a history of glaucoma. Or it could be as complex as being born with a particular eye anatomy that only your eye doctor would be able to detect. Know your family history and ask your doctor about this risk factor.
- are of African or Hispanic heritage. Your ethnicity plays an important role in your risk for this complicated disease. For example, Asian people are at a higher risk for certain types of glaucoma. African Americans have a six-to-eight times higher risk than Caucasians for getting the disease and a greater likelihood of long-term damage. People with Hispanic heritage are also at a higher risk, especially as they age.
- have had an eye injury. If your eyes have experienced an injury, perhaps from sports, or damage from a disease such as a tumor or retinal detachment, then glaucoma needs to be on your radar screen. Be sure to let your doctor know of any past incidents, even if you didn’t think there could be lasting damage.
- have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other health problems affecting the whole body. Your overall health can affect your eyes in surprising ways. People suffering from diabetes, heart disease, or high blood pressure may be at a higher risk of glaucoma. Severe asthma sufferers take note too—very high corticosteroid use may increase your risk of glaucoma.
It’s important to know that risk factors do not actually cause a disease but rather they can prompt you to take important steps for good health. In the case of eyes, a good place to start is having a comprehensive eye exam with your eye doctor. Your eye doctor can detect and treat serious diseases like glaucoma before damage occurs. If you are at higher-risk for developing glaucoma or believe you have symptoms related to glaucoma, call Chelsea Eye Associates at (212) 257-0007 to schedule a comprehensive eye exam.