January is National Glaucoma Month

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Glaucoma occurs when too much pressure in the eye damages the retina and optic nerve. This can result in vision loss or even blindness in 3 to 15 years. Approximately 3 million Americans have developed this eye disease and 120,000 are legally blind.

The scariest part is there are usually no symptoms during the beginning stages. However, there’s an acute form in which pressure inside the eye increases suddenly (sometimes within only a few hours). This type is rare, extremely painful and requires immediate attention in a hospital emergency room.  Annual comprehensive eye exams are important because they include standard glaucoma “air puff tests” that allow eye care professionals to measure the response of the eyes to the puff of air and estimate the intraocular pressure. Then, it can be diagnosed and treated it early on.

Who’s at the greatest risk? It typically affects adults over the age of 40. The risk is higher if an individual has a family history of glaucoma, high or low blood pressure, diabetes or is nearsighted. Race also plays a role. Some research has shown that African Americans are about seven times more likely to develop this eye disease. In fact, it’s the leading cause of blindness among African Americans, and Hispanics are also at a high risk.

Several medications have recently been developed and can be very effective at slowing or even halting the progression of glaucoma. Laser surgery, combined with medication, also helps increase drainage while decreasing pressure inside the affected eye. Even though it’s not curable, glaucoma is often very treatable – and the earlier, the better.

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