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January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month

To increase awareness about the ''silent blinding diseases,'' January has been declared National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of permanent vision loss, responsible for 9%-12% of all cases of total vision loss in the United States and effecting nearly 70 million people worldwide. Due to the fact that the disease is initially asymptomatic, research shows that close to half of those with the disease are not aware of their condition.

Glaucoma is actually a number of ocular diseases that damage the eye's optic nerve, which is responsible for transmitting images between the eye and the brain. Although glaucoma can affect anyone, those at higher risk include African Americans over age 40, anyone over age 60, in particular of Mexican ancestry, and individuals with a family history of the disease.

Because vision loss of this kind can not be restored, early diagnosis of glaucoma is crucial. This is difficult however, because symptoms are often not present before the optic nerve is damaged, often being noticed when peripheral (side) vision is already gone.

While research is ongoing, glaucoma has no cure, however treatment with medication or surgery can reduce the progression of the disease and reduce further vision loss. The preferred treatment is determined based on a number of variables, including the type of damage and the extent of vision loss.

The NIH's National Eye Institute recently found that while ninety percent of people had heard of glaucoma, only eight percent knew that it presents no early warning symptoms. Only an experienced optometrist can identify the early effects of glaucoma, through a comprehensive glaucoma screening. We recommend an annual eye exam as your best defense against this potentially devastating disease. Don’t delay in scheduling a comprehensive eye exam before it’s too late.