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January 2011: Glaucoma Awareness Month

12/29/2010, 5:10 p.m.
There are often no symptoms or pain associated with the onset of glaucoma. As it progresses, a person may notice his or her side vision decreasing. As the glaucoma worsens, the field of vision narrows and blindness may result.


Early detection means vision protection

A silent disease is taking away the sight of millions of Americans. It's called glaucoma and it can slowly reduce eyesight and may cause blindness.

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the optic nerve. The most common form is primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). An estimated 2.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with POAG and an additional 2 million have glaucoma and don't know it.

There are often no symptoms or pain associated with the onset of glaucoma. As it progresses, a person may notice his or her side vision decreasing. As the glaucoma worsens, the field of vision narrows and blindness may result.

Dr. Paul A. Sieving, director of vision research at the National Institutes of Health, said, "Vision lost because of glaucoma cannot be restored, which is why early detection is so important. If glaucoma is detected early, there is treatment available to slow or stop vision loss and reduce the risk of blindness."

Glaucoma can be detected through a dilated eye exam. A dilated eye exam allows an eye care professional to see inside the eye to check for signs of glaucoma and other vision problems. Treatment options for glaucoma include medicines, laser surgery, conventional surgery, or a combination of any of these.

While anyone can get glaucoma, the National Eye Institute (NEI) encourages those at higher risk to get a dilated eye exam every one to two years. Individuals at higher risk include African Americans over age 40; everyone over age 60, especially Mexican Americans; and people with a family history of glaucoma. NEI, one of the Federal government's National Institutes of Health, conducts and supports research that leads to sight-saving treatments and plays a key role in reducing visual impairment.

Glaucoma is caused by slow fluid drainage that builds up on the eye and damages the optic nerve.

To help spread the message about glaucoma in January, NEI has developed a series of e-cards that people can send as reminders about the importance of dilated eye exams in reducing the risk of vision loss. For more information about glaucoma or to send an e-card to family members or friends at risk for glaucoma, visit the NEI Website at www.nei.nih.gov/glaucoma.

"If you are at higher risk for glaucoma, a dilated eye exam is key to protecting your vision. Contact your local eye care professional and make an appointment for a dilated eye exam today," Dr. Sieving urged. "Encourage friends and loved ones to do the same."