Diabetes Care: Four Things You Should Know About Glaucoma

In a 2002 Prevent Blindness America Survey, half the respondents had heard of glaucoma but were unsure what it was, while 30 percent had never heard of the eye disease.

The remaining 20 percent of the respondents knew glaucoma had something to do with eye pressure; however, most of them believed glaucoma has obvious symptoms, is easily cured, or doesn’t cause blindness.

Hopefully, glaucoma awareness has grown during the last decade and a half, yet it’s estimated above 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and only half those individuals realize it.

Glaucoma Risk

Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of this eye disease, is characterized by a build up of pressure in the eye owed to clogged drainage canals. The pressure gradually pinches off blood vessels that supply the retina and optic nerve with nutrients and oxygen. Eventually, the starved eye tissues become damaged, and vision is diminished or lost.

Though glaucoma can develop at any age, some of us are at greater risk for it than others, including:

  • People with diabetes, particularly those with type 2.
  • Family members of people already diagnosed.
  • Individuals over 60.
  • Those who are extremely nearsighted.
  • African Americans. They are six to eight times more susceptible to glaucoma than Caucasians.

A survey sponsored by the Glaucoma Research Foundation suggests fewer than half of adult Americans get an annual dilated eye exam, which is the best way to detect glaucoma onset.

Four Glaucoma Must-Know Facts

There are four primary facts about open-angle glaucoma that everyone should know since taken together, they will inspire most of us to see an eye doctor regularly:

  1. There may be no warning signs. The increased eye pressure glaucoma generates seldom causes pain. Vision loss typically begins with the side, or peripheral vision, and people generally compensate for that loss - without realizing it - by turning their head to the side. Substantial sight may be lost before individuals realize there is a problem.
  2. There is no cure. Once vision is lost because of glaucoma, it cannot be regained. Medication and/or surgery can stop the disease’s progression, but glaucoma is a chronic problem and must be monitored for life.
  3. No one is risk free. Though seniors are at higher risk for glaucoma than young people, onset can begin at any age. Even some babies are born with, or later develop glaucoma. African Americans are especially susceptible at earlier ages.
  4. It’s a leading cause of blindness. Untreated, glaucoma can cause blindness, and unfortunately 10 percent of those who get treatment still experience loss of vision.

More than 120,000 people in the U.S. are blind from glaucoma—about nine to 12 percent of all blindness cases. After cataracts, it’s the leading reason for blindness among African Americans. However, the point is not to worry, but to see an eye doctor for a dilated eye exam, preferably once each year.

A Rarer Form

A rare form of glaucoma called angle-closure, or narrow-angle glaucoma, also involves blocked drainage canals, and a build up of eye pressure. However, this glaucoma type develops quickly and has noticeable warning signs such as blurred vision, eye or head pain, nausea, vomiting, rainbow halos around lights, and sudden vision loss. These symptoms naturally demand an immediate visit to an ophthalmologist.

Sources: Diabetes.org; Glaucoma.org/facts; Glaucoma Foundation; Glaucoma.org/types
Photo credit: Melissa Wiese

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