By: Neyal Ammary-Risch, MPH, MCHES, National Eye Institute (NEI), National Institutes of Health (NIH)
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damages the eye’s optic nerve, which carries visual signals to the brain. It can lead to vision loss or blindness if left untreated. Primary open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of this disease and often has no symptoms in its early stages. Quite frequently, by the time people are diagnosed with glaucoma, they’ve already begun to notice changes in their side, or peripheral, vision.
While anyone can get glaucoma, people at higher risk include African Americans age 40 and older; everyone over age 60, especially Hispanics/Latinos, people with diabetes, and those with a family history of the disease.
Currently, 2.7 million Americans have glaucoma and studies show that at least half of all people with it don’t know they have this potentially blinding eye disease. But, the good news is that glaucoma can be detected in its early stages through a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
Unlike an eye exam you get for new glasses or contact lenses, a comprehensive dilated eye exam allows an eye care professional to get a more in-depth look at the health of the eyes. He or she will put drops in your eyes to dilate, or widen, the pupil and then examine your eyes to look for common vision problems and damage from eye diseases like glaucoma. People at higher risk should have a comprehensive dilated eye exam every one to two years.
January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, a perfect time to remind people at higher risk how important it is to take care of their eyes now so they can keep vision in their future. If you’re a health professional or community educator, the National Eye Health Education Program has a wide variety of educational resources available to help you raise awareness about glaucoma and how people can protect their sight. Visit the Glaucoma Awareness Month resources page to find social media resources, infographics, public service announcements, videos and more.
People at higher risk for glaucoma can learn more about the disease, find tips on finding an eye care professional, or financial assistance for eye care by visiting www.nei.nih.gov/glaucoma or calling the National Eye Institute at 301–496–5248.