Glaucoma: A Leading Cause of Blindness

Glaucoma: A Leading Cause of Blindness

glaucomaDear Dr. Levister: I have a long family history of glaucoma. Can this lead to blindness? P.N. 

Dear P.N: Glaucoma can cause blindness if it is left untreated. And unfortunately approximately 10% of people with glaucoma who receive proper treatment still experience loss of vision.

Glaucoma is not curable, and vision lost cannot be regained. With medication and/or surgery, it is possible to halt further loss of vision. Since open-angle glaucoma is a chronic condition, it must be monitored for life. Diagnosis is the first step to preserving your vision.

Everyone is at risk for glaucoma from babies to senior citizens. Older people are at a higher risk for glaucoma but babies can be born with glaucoma (approximately 1 out of every 10,000 babies born in the United States). Young adults can get glaucoma, too. African Americans in particular are susceptible at a younger age.

It is estimated that over 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma but only half of those know they have it. In the U.S., more than 120,000 are blind from glaucoma, accounting for 9% to 12% of all cases of blindness. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization. After cataracts, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans. African Americans are 15 times more likely to be visually impaired from glaucoma than Caucasians.

With open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, there are virtually no symptoms. Usually, no pain is associated with increased eye pressure. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision. You may compensate for this unconsciously by turning your head to the side, and may not notice anything until significant vision is lost. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get tested. If you have glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately.

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