Early detection is critical to maintain healthy vision. With almost two-thirds of adult Americans who do not wear corrective lenses not receiving regular comprehensive eye exams, millions of people are putting their vision and their quality of life at risk, according to the American Optometric Association.
Glaucoma – often called ‘the sneak thief of sight' because it can strike without symptoms – is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. According to the National Eye Institute, more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but only half of them know it. Glaucoma most often occurs in people over age 40. People who are very nearsighted, diabetic or who have a family history of glaucoma are also at high risk for the disease.
According to the American Optometric Association's 2007 American Eye-Q survey, 67 percent of Americans believe that glaucoma is preventable. In reality, the disease cannot be prevented, although it is treatable if caught in the early stages. The annual American Eye-Q survey identifies attitudes and behaviors of Americans regarding eye care and related issues.
“Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the internal pressure in your eyes increases enough to damage nerve fibers in your optic nerve and cause vision loss,” said Dr. Tanya Carter, AOA's Glaucoma Eye Care Expert and State University of New York College of Optometry professor. “The most common type of glaucoma develops gradually and painlessly, without symptoms. A rarer type occurs rapidly, and its symptoms may include blurred vision, loss of side vision, seeing colored rings around lights, and pain or redness in the eyes.”
Since vision lost to glaucoma cannot be restored, regular comprehensive eye examinations are important for people at risk. A comprehensive optometric examination includes a tonometry test to measure pressure in the eyes; an examination of the inside of the eyes and optic nerves; and a visual field test to check for changes in central and side vision.
Treatment for glaucoma includes prescription eye drops and medicines to lower pressure in the eyes. In some cases, laser treatment or surgery may be effective in reducing pressure.
“Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early, it can be controlled to prevent or slow continued vision loss,” said Dr. Carter. “Losing your sight can be devastating, so there is no substitute for doing all you can to maintain your eye health through regular exams.”
Visit www.poaeyes.org for more information on eye health, specifically diabetic retinopathy, or to find an optometrist in your area.