danger is that it can significantly damage the optic nerve before a
person notices problems with his eyesight. To get a jump on glaucoma
— the second leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide — you
need to know your general and familial risks and see Eye M.D.
(ophthalmologist) for regular exams. March 12 marks World Glaucoma
Day, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology reminds the public
that knowing your risks can help save your sight.
“World Glaucoma Day challenges us to take action to reduce the
terrible impact of glaucoma,” said H. Dunbar Hoskins Jr., MD,
executive vice president of the Academy. “Fifty to 75 percent of
Americans with glaucoma are unaware that they have the disease. Once
vision is lost to glaucoma it cannot be restored, but when we detect
and treat it early we can often preserve vision so people can
maintain active lives.”
World Glaucoma Day, a joint initiative of the World Glaucoma
Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Association, was launched
in 2008 to respond to the worldwide increase in glaucoma. By the year
2020, an estimated 80 million people worldwide will have glaucoma,
and 11 million of them will be blind in both eyes.
Among Americans, higher risk groups include people of African or
Hispanic heritage. Elderly African Americans are five times more
likely to develop glaucoma and 14 to 17 times more likely to become
blind than those of European ancestry. The risk for Hispanic
Americans rises significantly after age 60. Anyone with a family
history of the illness is four to nine times more susceptible. Other
glaucoma risk factors include being over 60, nearsightedness,
previous eye injuries, steroid use, and a history of cardiovascular
disorders, diabetes, or migraine headache.
The Academy’s EyeSmart campaign recommends that adults with no
symptoms or risk factors have a baseline screening at age 40 when
age-related eye diseases and vision changes may begin. Those with
risk factors for glaucoma or other eye diseases, including familial
history, should see their ophthalmologist to determine how often to
EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the
American Academy of Ophthalmology, offers a Glaucoma EyeCare Program
to promote early detection and treatment. The program provides
educational materials and facilitates access to free eye exams for
qualified, uninsured patients. People may call the toll-free help
line at 1-800-391-EYES (3937) for themselves and/or family members.
Help lines are open 24 hours a day, every day, year-round. More
information on EyeCare America can be found at
Glaucoma damages the optic nerve, the part of the eye that carries
images to the brain. As glaucoma worsens, cells die in the retina — a
special, light-sensitive area of the eye — reducing the optic nerve’s
ability to relay visual information to the brain. In the most common
form of the disease, primary open-angle glaucoma, the first symptom
is often narrowing of the visual field followed by the development of
blank spots. Symptoms of the less common but more acutely dangerous
form of the disease, closed-angle glaucoma, include blurred vision,
severe eye pain and headache, rainbow-colored halos around lights,
and nausea and vomiting. A person experiencing these symptoms needs
to be treated by an Eye M.D. right away.
More information on glaucoma and how to preserve vision, as well as
how to access care, is available on the Academy-sponsored web site
geteyesmart. Additional information about World Glaucoma Day
is available at wgday.
About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world’s largest
association of eye physicians and surgeons — Eye M.D.s — with more
than 27,000 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the
three “O’s” — opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists. It is
the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases
and injuries, and perform eye surgery. To find an Eye M.D. in your
area, visit the Academy’s Web site at aao.