Patients at the optometrist’s office are there for a variety of reasons, but they can usually agree on one thing: having that puff of air blown into the eye is one of the most uncomfortable experiences of the standard eye exam. There are other uncomfortable facets of an optometry appointment, such as numbing eye drops and bright lights as well. But all the minor discomfort is there to prevent a major problem: glaucoma.
There are currently more than 3 million people in the world who have glaucoma. That number is expected to rise to 4.2 million by 2030, according to the National Eye Institute. The disease is called “the sneak thief of sight” because it has no symptoms. As eyesight tends to begin fading on the periphery or sides of a person’s vision, someone suffering from glaucoma could lose up to 40% of their sight without realizing it. And once sight has been lost, it’s permanent.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness, with 120,000 people blind from it in the United States alone. Over million people in the US and 60 million people worldwide had been diagnosed with the disease and are at risk of blindness. The World Health Organization estimates that over 4.5 million people are blind from the disease.
Glaucoma results from damage to the optic nerve, the nerve responsible for transferring images between the eye and the brain. While there is no cure for it as of yet, there are medications and treatments that slow down the damage and help the patient keep more of their vision longer. This makes early detection a must.
There are a variety of factors that could affect a person’s chances at a glaucoma diagnosis. The disease is more prevalent in African American and Latino populations. Other people groups at risk include those over 60 years old, diabetics, and those who are near-sighted. If a patient had used steroids, had an injury to the eye, or has a family member that was diagnosed, they’re also at higher risk.
To spread awareness and work toward a cure, the month of January was deemed Glaucoma Awareness Month. There are a variety of ways to participate.
1. Donate to organizations researching for a cure, such as The Glaucoma Foundation
2. Research the disease on sites like www.glaucoma.org
3. Encourage friends and family to make an appointment with an optometrist, even if they don’t have glasses or other established vision problems
4. Learn the risk factors that could increase the chance of glaucoma
5. Make an appointment with your own optometrist
The most important part in battling glaucoma is understanding that there are no symptoms. It’s the sneak thief, slowly stealing vision from the eyes without notice. To protect your sight and the sight of your loved ones, spread the word and see an optometrist. Preventing the disease and maintaining your sight is worth a little puff of air to the eye, no matter how uncomfortable.