January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, a good time
to talk about the disease that has long been called the “sneak thief of sight.”
Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable
blindness in the U.S., and the disease affects at least 3 million adults in this country and 60
million people worldwide. Unfortunately, many people affected by glaucoma
aren’t even aware they have it because it does not typically cause loss of
vision or other symptoms until fairly late in the disease process. Let's look at some common questions about glaucoma:
Glaucoma is a
group of diseases which all have the common finding of progressive optic nerve
damage. The optic nerve is the bundle of fibers which carries information about
the visual world back to the brain, enabling you to see. If the optic nerve is
damaged, these signals are interrupted and vision is lost. Most types of
glaucoma are progressive over time, meaning that they continue to get worse if
left undiagnosed or untreated. Vision that is lost to glaucoma cannot be
restored, emphasizing the importance of early diagnosis and treatment.
develop glaucoma, but certain groups are at higher risk than others. In
particular, people of African, Asian and Hispanic descent have higher rates of
glaucoma, as do all individuals over 60 years old and first-degree relatives of
others who have already been diagnosed with glaucoma. In addition, individuals
with high degrees of myopia (near-sightedness), people who require chronic
steroid use for treatment of inflammatory disease, and people who have had a
prior eye injury are also at higher risk.
usually without symptoms for the patient until late in the disease. Therefore,
the only way to be diagnosed with glaucoma for most patients is to have a
routine comprehensive eye exam performed by a licensed optometrist or
ophthalmologist. This eye care professional will complete an examination
including measurement of your vision, intraocular pressure, and a dilated view
of your optic nerve. If the exam is suspicious for glaucoma, the doctor may
also recommend further testing, including a test of visual function or an
automated measurement of the optic nerve.
glaucoma is treated by lowering the pressure inside the eye. As a first-line
treatment, this is usually accomplished by using a daily eye drop or by having
a laser treatment in the office. More advanced cases may require multiple
different eye drops or even incisional surgery in the operating room to lower
the eye pressure. Lowering the intraocular pressure is the only proven way to
arrest the progress of chronic glaucoma.
Glaucoma must be
diagnosed and treated as early in the process as possible to prevent
irreversible vision loss. Please encourage your family and friends to have
routine comprehensive eye exams, especially if they fall into a high-risk
category as described above.
To schedule a
glaucoma screening exam, or to see if you qualify for one of the research
studies being conducted, contact the UPMC Eye Center at 412-647-2200 or 1-800-446-3797.