January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month
Margo Kerrigan, M.P.H., Area Director
Indian Health Service California Area Office
January 2010 - January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the name for a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. The optic nerve is in the back of the eye, and carries information from the eye to the brain. If it is damaged, you can lose your vision. Over 3 million Americans, and nearly 70 million people around the world, have Glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a major cause of preventable blindness. And while diabetes is the leading cause of blindness among adult American Indians and Alaska Natives, diabetes also increases the risk of Glaucoma. People over 40, and especially those over 70, are at increased risk of developing Glaucoma, especially if there is a family history of the disease.
The most common type of Glaucoma is hereditary, so if you do have the disease, let your family members know they are at increased risk.
Glaucoma occurs after damage to the optic nerve. When extra fluid builds up in the eye (because the eye makes too much fluid or does not drain well) this causes increased pressure, which can lead to Glaucoma. Diseases such as diabetes, leukemia, sickle-cell anemia, some forms of arthritis, can also cause Glaucoma to develop. It can also occur after an eye injury, after eye surgery, or due to an eye tumor. Some medicines that are used to treat other diseases may cause Glaucoma. Sometimes the cause is never found.
There are two main types of Glaucoma:
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common form of Glaucoma in the US. With this type, there is slow damage to the optic nerve which eventually leads to loss of eyesight. One eye may be affected more than the other. Patients may lose much of their eyesight without even realizing it. Usually side (peripheral) vision is lost before central vision is affected.
Closed-angle glaucoma accounts for only 10% of all cases in the US, but for Native Americans, the risk of developing this form of Glaucoma is as great as that of developing the open-angle form. In this type of Glaucoma, the iris and lens block the movement of fluid in the eye causing pressure to build up. This form of Glaucoma may occur suddenly, and requires immediate medical care right to prevent permanent damage to the eye. The signs of this form of Glaucoma may include blurred vision, severe headaches, eye pain, and nausea or vomiting.
There is also a rare form of Glaucoma called Congenital Glaucoma that some infants have at birth. Children and young adults can also develop this type of the disease.
See your doctor if you notice blind spots in your vision or if you notice that your vision has deteriorated. Also ask to be checked if you have a family history of Glaucoma, are over age 70, or have diabetes. If your doctor thinks you have Glaucoma, you will be sent to an ophthalmologist for more tests.
Finding and treating Glaucoma early is important to prevent blindness. If you are at high risk for the disease, be sure to get checked by an eye specialist even if you have no symptoms.
For More Information:
The Eye Institute of the National Institutes for Health:
Glaucoma Research Foundation
Glaucoma Learning Center