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Glaucoma Awareness Month Observed in the District

Stacy M. Brown | 1/15/2014, 3 p.m.
Glaucoma silently steals eyesight from more than 2.7 million Americans each year and officials at the National Eye Institute in ...
Courtesy of the National Eye Health Education Program

Glaucoma silently steals eyesight from more than 2.7 million Americans each year and officials at the National Eye Institute in Bethesda, Md., project that more than 4.2 million will have the disease by 2030.

Further, nine to 10 percent of those with the dreaded disease ultimately go blind, said officials at the Glaucoma Research Foundation in San Francisco.

Glaucoma, defined as a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning and it has no cure, counts as the second leading cause of blindness in the world.

After cataracts, it’s the leading cause of blindness among the African-American community in which it’s six to eight times more common for blacks to go blind from the disease than whites.

Statistics from several health organizations show that African Americans are 15 times more likely to be visually impaired from glaucoma than whites.

“Glaucoma does not typically show symptoms until it has reached more serious stages, which make it necessary to have routine eye exams to detect the condition before it gets worse,” said Dr. Hylton R. Mayer, an ophthalmologist at Eye Doctors of Washington in Northwest, who recently performed the first iStent Trabecular Micro-Bypass Stent – an implant procedure that’s done during cataract surgery – in the metropolitan area to treat glaucoma in cataract surgery patients.

Several in the local health community are calling on individuals, particularly African Americans, 40 years and older to get checked for glaucoma and other potential eye-related issues.

“It’s something that I had to push my father, my uncle and one of my cousins to do,” said Leslie Dyer, a physician’s assistant in District Heights, Md. “As African Americans, there are many things we have to be concerned about when it comes to our health, and glaucoma is certainly one of those concerns,” said Dyer, 51.

Glaucoma strikes earlier and progresses faster in blacks, according to statistics provided by the Glaucoma Research Foundation.

The risk for glaucoma proves 20 percent greater for those who have family members with the disease and for African Americans over 40, with extreme nearsightedness, diabetes, hypertension and those who have had prolonged steroid use.

Although the most common forms primarily affect the middle-age and the elderly, glaucoma can affect individuals of all ages, officials said.

“Black people should get a thorough check for glaucoma every one to two years after they turn 35,” said Dyer, echoing what’s recommended by the research foundation, which notes the reason for the higher rate of the illness in African Americans remains unknown.

Studies performed by several institutions, including the Baltimore Eye Survey, noted that one way to attack glaucoma is through treatment and early detection.

Officials said there are two primary types of glaucoma – the primary open-angle glaucoma and the angle-closure glaucoma – and the appropriate treatment depends upon the type and other factors.

“The most common type of glaucoma, which is chronic open angle glaucoma, really has no symptoms and sneaks up on patients, causing slow but progressive damage to their field of vision,” said Dr. Brad Spagnolo, an ophthalmologist at the Baltimore Washington Eye Center in Baltimore.