January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, so we wanted to highlight some key facts about glaucoma so you can better understand this serious eye condition that affects roughly 2.7 million Americans.
You can have glaucoma and not even know it.
Glaucoma is known as “the sneak thief of sight” because you don’t notice it until the irreversible damage has already set in, resulting in permanent vision loss. That’s why regular eye exams are so important. Your VSP doctor can detect signs of glaucoma before you even notice symptoms. Proper treatment can help you avoid vision loss.
Ethnicity and age affect your risk of developing glaucoma.
Anyone 60 and older, especially Mexican Americans, are at high risk for developing glaucoma. Other high-risk groups include African-Americans over age 40 and anyone with a family history of glaucoma. If you or a loved one falls into one of these categories, be sure an annual eye exam is on the calendar to spot conditions like glaucoma before they damage your vision.
The main cause of glaucoma is high pressure in the eye.
Known as “ocular hypertension” or “high intraocular pressure,” this unnecessary pressure in the eye comes from excess fluid (aqueous humor) that doesn’t drain properly from the eye. This fluid creates pressure that pushes against the optic nerve (the part of your eyes that sends visual information to your brain), threatening your vision. Ocular hypertension doesn’t necessarily lead to glaucoma, but it does increase your risk.
Glaucoma can be a secondary medical condition.
Because glaucoma is an issue of fluid failing to drain from the eye at the proper pace, that means the draining mechanism is the source of the problem. Known as the trabecular meshwork, this portion of your eyes can experience damage from injury, diabetes, abnormal blood vessel growth, medications like steroids, high blood pressure, and other factors. This leads to fluid build-up in the eye.
Damage from glaucoma is irreversible.
In other words, there is no cure for glaucoma. There are treatments, however. Eye drops are the most common treatment, certain oral medications are another, and surgery is yet another option in extreme cases. The goal of these treatments is to keep the pressure in your eyes at a healthy level, which prevents further damage to the optic nerve. The nerve itself can’t heal because its fibers don’t have the ability to regenerate.
This is a guest post by VSP employee Lauren C.