Glaucoma Awareness Month

glaucoma awareness week

Call me Ishmael. Just kidding. Have you ever been stuck on the first sentence of a piece of writing because you want it to be truly impactful? Because you want your fervor for the matter to be conveyed through every word. This is that kind of post. This is about something I am all too close to. Something that I see in practice all too often.

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month.  Glaucoma is a disease that affects 3 million people in America, 60 million people across the world and, sadly, is a leading cause of preventable blindness. It has even been estimated that half of those with glaucoma don't even know they have the disease.

In order to understand what glaucoma is and how it affects sight, it's helpful to know a small amount of ocular anatomy.  Our eyes contain 2 lenses, one in the front and one inside the eye, to focus light entering the eye on the retina. It's similar to how light was focused through a camera lens onto film before the days of digital cameras. If those lenses don't function adequately, you wear glasses or contact lenses to help the light focus on the retina properly. Once the light hits the retina, it's converted to a neural signal and sent to your brain through the optic nerve (the nerve that connects your eye to your brain) so you can process (or develop) what you see. Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damages that precious optic nerve.

The two main types of glaucoma are primary open angle glaucoma and angle closure-glaucoma. In these types of glaucoma there is more fluid pressure in the eye than the eye can tolerate, resulting in optic nerve damage. So it's not that your eye care provider enjoys puffing air into your eye (or another method of checking your eye pressure), it's just that the eye pressure value is important in determining whether you have glaucoma or are at high risk of developing the disease. There is an accepted standard of normal eye pressure, and eyes outside that standard need to be closely monitored so they don't develop glaucoma. In addition to primary open angle glaucoma and angle closure-glaucoma, there is a type of glaucoma known as normal tension glaucoma in which there is optic nerve damage even though the eye pressure is within normal limits. Finally, trauma, certain medications and systemic diseases such as diabetes can also lead to secondary glaucoma.

What makes glaucoma so dangerous and has led to so many afflicted without knowledge of having the disease is that it's most often symptomless in early stages. In fact, because vision loss starts in the periphery, most afflicted don't notice their vision being affected until almost half their vision is gone. But, sadly, once that vision is gone, there is no getting it back. While there is currently no cure for glaucoma, there are eye drops as well as laser and surgical treatments that aim to lower eye pressure and prevent or slow optic nerve damage.

So if there is a moral to this blog post, it is this: The best way to prevent blindness from glaucoma is to get regular, comprehensive eye exams. If it is determined that you have high risk factors for glaucoma then you may be monitored more closely, and if glaucoma is detected, you can begin treatment immediately.

There are over 120,000 people blind from glaucoma in the United States. You can help by spreading awareness of this debilitating disease and preventing future loss of vision. Also, you can always make a contribution to the Glaucoma Research Foundation that funds research aimed at finding new treatments as well as finding a cure. You can make a donation HERE.

"Nights dark beyond darkness and the days more gray each one than what had gone before. Like the onset of some cold glaucoma dimming away the world."- Cormac McCarthy "The Road"


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