According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, people of all ages can be at risk for glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness in the United States. However, for those over age 60, the risk increases. This is why it’s so vital that seniors see their eye doctor on an annual basis, as well as understand some of the risk factors and symptoms of the disease.
What is Glaucoma?
Over 3 million Americans have glaucoma, and the National Eye Institute estimates that number could escalate to 111 million by the year 2040. It is the leading cause of preventable blindness in those past age 60, but over half of those with glaucoma are not aware they even have it.
Glaucoma is a complicated disease that is caused by increased pressure within the eyeball, gradually leading to loss of sight. It usually occurs when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye, which increases the pressure in the eye and damages the optic nerve. With early treatment, blindness from glaucoma often can be prevented.
There are several different types of glaucoma, with the most common forms being primary open-angle glaucoma and closed angle (angle closure) glaucoma. In a healthy eye, aqueous humor (a clear fluid) circulates inside the front portion of the eye, which is continually produced as an equal amount flows out of the eye to maintain healthy eye pressure. When one has glaucoma, the aqueous humor does not flow out of the eye properly, and this leads to the buildup of fluid and rising pressure.
Common Glaucoma Symptoms and Risk Factors
Unfortunately, with open-angle glaucoma there can be virtually no symptoms. However, some people report pain, usually due to the increased eye pressure. There will also be a gradual loss of peripheral vision in both eyes, and as the disease progresses this can lead to tunnel vision. In closed angle glaucoma, symptoms usually include severe eye pain that can lead to nausea and/or vomiting, blurred vision, halo-glows around lights, red eyes or sudden vision problems in dim lighting.
As mentioned before, age is one of the main risk factors for glaucoma. However, ethnic background can also play a role, as Asian-Americans and African-Americans are more likely to develop glaucoma as compared to Caucasians. People with diabetes or hypothyroidism also have an increased risk, as well as those who have had eye injuries, retinal detachment, eye inflammations or eye tumors. Plus, those who are nearsighted or underwent eye surgery have a higher risk for glaucoma, too.
National Glaucoma Awareness Month 2021
The Glaucoma Research Foundation has designated January as National Glaucoma Awareness Month in an effort to raise awareness and prevention for the sight-stealing disease. The foundation encourages people who have glaucoma to talk about their condition and to get involved in the community through events like fundraisers, group discussions and information sessions.
For seniors, January is a great time to get your annual eye exam scheduled. A comprehensive eye exam can detect the beginnings of glaucoma, which allows for treatment to start immediately. And, if detected early enough, further damage from this serious condition can be halted. Treatment for glaucoma in seniors can include a combination of oral medications and eye drops, or conventional or laser surgery.
Plus, spread the word about preventing glaucoma. Along with an annual eye exam, wear proper eye protection when engaged in sports or home improvement projects, and exercise regularly.