January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Today, approximately 3 million people have glaucoma, making it the second leading cause of blindness in the United States, and the first major leading cause of preventable blindness. Glaucoma is also six to eight times more common in African-Americans than in Caucasians.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve in the back of the eye, most often when eye pressure is elevated for an extended period of time. This process can often decrease peripheral vision without symptoms, thus earning it the moniker of “the silent thief of sight.” Many people may know about the “air puff” test or other tests used to measure eye pressure in an eye examination. But this test alone cannot detect glaucoma.
Damage from glaucoma is always preceded by loss and thinning of the nerve fiber layer. It often occurs when there is too much fluid in the eye, causing pressure to build up and damage to the optic nerve, which is responsible for sending vision information to the brain. Since this damage cannot be repaired, prevention is important. By accurately measuring the thickness of the nerve fiber layer and comparing the results to known glaucoma patients, we can quickly diagnose patients who may be at risk. If glaucoma is detected early, the chance of serious visual damage is reduced. We can also use this technology to diagnose patients with diabetic retinopathy, macular degeneration and other diseases of the retina.
Annual eye exams are the best deterrent to vision loss caused by glaucoma and other preventable eye diseases. Even in a routine eye exam, your eye doctor can detect signs and risk factors of glaucoma. Whether you wear corrective lenses or not, getting an annual eye exam is an important part of your health care and critical to maintaining healthy vision.
By Dr. Dylan Reach, an optometrist at Acworth Family Eyecare.