Importance of Glaucoma Awareness MonthJan 19, 2022 10:00AM ● By Boitumelo Masihleho
Glaucoma is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness in the United States. Glaucoma has no early symptoms and that’s why half of the people with glaucoma don’t know they have it. The National Eye Institute projects this number of those with glaucoma will reach 4.2 million by 2030, a 58% increase.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that can damage your optic nerve. The optic nerve supplies visual information to your brain from your eyes. Over time, the increased pressure can erode your optic nerve tissue, which may lead to vision loss or even blindness. If it’s caught early, you may be able to prevent additional vision. The most common type of glaucoma is primary open-angle glaucoma. It has no signs or symptoms except gradual vision loss. Acute angle closure glaucoma, which is also known as narrow-angle glaucoma, is a medical emergency. Symptoms include:
severe eye pain
redness in your eye
sudden vision disturbances
seeing colored rings around lights
sudden blurred vision
Glaucoma is usually, but not always, the result of abnormally high pressure inside your eye. The back of your eye continuously makes a clear fluid called aqueous humor. As this fluid is made, it fills the front part of your eye. Then, it leaves your eye through channels in your cornea and iris. If these channels are blocked or partially obstructed, the natural pressure in your eye, which is called the intraocular pressure (IOP), may increase. As your IOP increases, your optic nerve may become damaged. As damage to your nerve progresses, you may begin losing sight in your eye.
Glaucoma occurs in the U.S. Black population at a higher rate than in whites and other minorities, with three to four times greater prevlalence of the disease in Blacks than in whites, and a six times-greater risk for blindness. Epidemiologic data gathered by the Barbados Eye Studies and the Baltimore Eye Survey have confirmed the higher prevalence of glaucoma in Blacks. In the study, more than 4,000 Black participants, aged 40 to 84 years, had a 7% prevalence of glaucoma. However, that researchers have found that not all Black populations have the same prevalence of glaucoma.
The Baltimore Eye Survey found a lower rate of glaucoma in Black Americans than the Barbados study found in Black Caribbeans. The Baltimore study found a prevalence of almost 4% in Black Americans compared to a 1.7% prevalence in whites. A family history of glaucoma is a key risk factor for the development of the disease. The African Descent and Glaucoma Evaluation Study Group (ADAGES) study found that Black people often have larger optic nerves. This may be important as people with larger nerves are often misdiagnosed with glaucoma.
The genetic link can be a threat to persons of any race. Research has shown that siblings of persons diagnosed with glaucoma have nearly a ten-fold increased risk of having glaucoma when compared to siblings of persons without glaucoma. Chronic eye inflammation and thin corneas can lead to increased pressure in your eyes. Another finding from the ADAGES is that African Americans have thinner corneas than those of European descent and thin corneas are a known risk factor for glaucoma.
Regular eye exams are especially important for those at higher risk for glaucoma and may help to prevent unnecessary vision loss. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get a comprehensive eye examination. Then, if you have glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately.
Several medicines designed to reduce IOP are available. These medicines are available in the form of eye drops or pills, but the drops are more common. If a blocked or slow channel is causing increased IOP, your doctor may suggest surgery to make a drainage path for fluid or destroy tissues that are responsible for the increased fluid. Treatment for angle-closure glaucoma is different. A laser procedure called laser peripheral iridotomy may also be performed. This procedure creates small holes in your iris to allow for increased fluid movement.
While there are no known ways of preventing glaucoma, blindness or significant vision loss from glaucoma can be prevented if the disease is recognized in the early stages. Maintaining a healthy body weight lowers your risk of developing diabetes or high blood pressure which, in turn, decreases your likelihood of developing classic glaucoma or glaucoma-like retinopathy. Wearing protective eyewear is important when engaged in sports activities or home DIY projects. Eye injuries can result in traumatic glaucoma or secondary glaucoma, so protecting your eyes from injury is another way to prevent glaucoma. If you have hypertension, check your pressure every morning and every night by keeping a log of your pressures and see your doctor if your pressure spikes, or if you have chronically elevated pressures. Regular exercise, low-sodium and low-calorie diets can help you control your blood pressure and minimize the risk of developing hypertension-related glaucoma.
Boitumelo Masihleho is a South African digital content creator. She graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Rhodes University in Journalism and Media Studies and Politics and International Studies. She's an experienced multimedia journalist who is committed to writing balanced, informative and interesting stories on a number of topics. Boitumelo has her own YouTube channel where she shares her love for affordable beauty and lifestyle content.
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