Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye's nerve (optic nerve). Glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness in the U.S., and it is the most common cause of blindness among African-Americans. About 15 million Americans have glaucoma, and only about 1/2 of those people who have glaucoma know that they have it. Most blindness from glaucoma is preventable if caught early enough. The key to catching glaucoma early enough is getting regular, comprehensive eye exams, which should occur every 2-3 years until you are 40, and thereafter every 1-2 years. African-Americans are 4-5 times more likely to have glaucoma than Caucasian-Americans; people with a family history are likewise about 5 times more likely to develop glaucoma. Diabetics, nearsighted people, people who have experienced eye trauma and people who use steroids (either inhaled or by mouth) are also at increased risk for glaucoma, and these people should also be checked more frequently.
Glaucoma is called the 'silent thief' because for the majority of patients the loss of vision occurs so slowly that they do not realize they are losing sight. Usually whatever vision is 'stolen' from glaucoma is not able to be recovered by subsequent treatment. Thus the goal of therapy is to preserve whatever is left of your field of vision.
A smaller percentage of glaucoma patients have symptoms, such as halos around lights, blurry vision, eye pain, light sensitivity, headache or nausea - these symptoms can be mild to severe in intensity, and they can be constantly or intermittently present. If you have these symptoms, you should get an ophthalmological evaluation. Don't let glaucoma get you!!
Linda Dressler, M.D.
Graduate of Harvard School of Medicine (1982)
A practicing Ophthalmologist in Fairfax, VA