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January is Glaucoma Awareness Month

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month

What to know during Glaucoma Awareness Month

Glaucoma is a disease that damages the optic nerve, which connects the eyes to the brain. Glaucoma happens when fluid builds up in the front of the eye, causing too much pressure inside the eye. This extra pressure is what damages the optic nerve.

Glaucoma can lead to irreversible vision loss and is the leading cause of permanent blindness.  

Why Glaucoma Awareness Month matters

About three million Americans have glaucoma. According to The National Eye Institute, glaucoma incidence in the U.S. will likely see a 58% increase — reaching 4.2 million by 2030. Globally, more than 60 million people have glaucoma. And it is estimated that as many as 50% don’t even know they have it.

The goal of Glaucoma Awareness Month is to educate people about this disease. Glaucoma is often referred to as “the sneak thief of sight.” It is referred to as such because there are often no symptoms. And once vision is gone, it can’t be restored.

History of glaucoma

Glaucoma was first identified and was mentioned in writings dating as far back as 400 B.C. It was first identified by the Greeks, but was known only as “a blinding disease, occurring mostly in the elderly.” 

It wasn’t until 1622 that British surgeon Richard Bannister proved that glaucoma is caused by too much pressure in the eye. 

Who is at risk for glaucoma? 

Glaucoma usually affects adults who are 60 years old and older, but everyone can develop glaucoma. 

Those at higher risk include:

  • Individuals over the age of 60

  • Black, Asian and Hispanic populations

  • Anyone with a family history of glaucoma

  • People who have had an eye injury or eye trauma

  • Patients taking steroid medications

  • Individuals who are very nearsighted or very farsighted

Children and glaucoma

While glaucoma mainly impacts adults, it does occur in children as well. Although, it is relatively rare. As with adults, pediatric glaucoma is caused by too much pressure in the eye. It’s estimated that around one in 44,000 individuals under the age of 20 have glaucoma. Globally, more than 300,000 children experience glaucoma.

Congenital (present from birth) glaucoma is even rarer with an incidence of only 1 in 10,000.

Causes and risk factors for childhood glaucoma include (but are not limited to):

Most people (including children) don’t experience symptoms until optic nerve damage has already occurred. It’s even possible for an individual to lose up to 40% of their vision before learning they have glaucoma.

SEE RELATED: How often should you get your eyes checked?

How glaucoma is treated    

Currently, there is no cure for glaucoma. That’s why early detection is so important. For both children and adults, glaucoma is usually treated with prescription eye drops or oral medication. Surgery and laser treatments are options for patients when medication doesn’t reduce enough pressure in the eyes.  

Advancements in glaucoma treatment

Researchers continue to look for new and potentially more effective ways to treat glaucoma. New treatments have emerged in the past few years including safer surgeries, medication advancements and technology.  

What you can do to raise awareness

Some things you can do to help raise awareness of glaucoma this month (and beyond) include:

  • Do you have glaucoma? Since some forms of glaucoma are hereditary, your children and siblings are more likely to get it. Talk to them about glaucoma and encourage them to get a thorough eye exam and glaucoma screening.

  • Early detection of glaucoma is key. Your eye doctor knows how to identify the early warning signs and can treat your glaucoma before you experience vision loss. If you’re having vision issues and/or are in a high-risk category, get a dilated eye exam as soon as possible. 

  • Treatment can help slow down vision loss caused by glaucoma, so the sooner you’re diagnosed, the better you can manage the disease.  

The importance of routine dilated eye exams

The  only way to find out if you have glaucoma is to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam. Experts recommend that everyone gets a baseline eye disease screening at age 40, even if you don’t have any vision problems. (Before the age of 40, routine eye exams should be part of your annual wellness check.)

Early signs of eye disease can begin to appear at age 40, and a screening allows your eye doctor to get an overall picture of your eye health. At any age, visit your eye doctor as soon as possible if you are at higher risk or show symptoms of glaucoma. 

A glaucoma diagnosis can be scary, but it doesn’t have to mean you will lose your vision. Seeing your eye doctor regularly and following your treatment plan can help protect and maintain your vision.

READ MORE: Diabetic eye exam: What to expect

What is glaucoma? Symptoms, causes, diagnosis, treatment. American Academy of Ophthalmology. December 2022.

Don’t let glaucoma steal your sight! Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. November 2020.

January is glaucoma awareness month. Glaucoma Research Foundation. Accessed December 2022.

2000 years under pressure — the history of glaucoma research. Acta Ophthalmologica. December 2019.

What is glaucoma? Glaucoma Research Foundation. Accessed December 2022.

Pediatric glaucoma: A review of the basics. Review of Ophthalmology. April 2014.

Childhood glaucoma research network classification and epidemiology of childhood glaucoma. EyeWiki. American Academy of Ophthalmology. July 2022.

Glaucoma for children. American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus. August 2021.

Glaucoma. The Pediatric Glaucoma & Cataract Family Association. Accessed December 2022.

Recent advances in glaucoma treatment — What do they mean for patients? Glaucoma Research Foundation. April 2022.

Get an eye disease screening at 40. American Academy of Ophthalmology. April 2022.

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