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Early diagnosis can lessen effects of glaucoma

CHICAGO — As 2011 arrives, many will be making New Year's resolutions to improve their health. However, many may not be aware that an eye exam cannot only help to protect vision, it can uncover evidence of other diseases including diabetes or hypertension.
And, for eye diseases such as glaucoma, the damaging effects may be detected through an eye exam before a patient notices any symptoms. In fact, patients in the early stages of glaucoma usually have no symptoms, no noticeable vision loss and no pain, which is why it is called the "sneak thief of sight." By the time symptoms start to appear, some permanent damage to the eye has usually occurred.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world and the leading cause of blindness in African American and Hispanic populations in America. According to the study "Vision Problems in the U.S." by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute (NEI), there are nearly 2.3 million Americans ages 40 and older who have glaucoma.
Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes loss of sight by damaging a part of the eye called the optic nerve. This nerve sends information from the eyes to the brain. When the optic nerve is damaged, peripheral vision begins to diminish. If left untreated, over time, glaucoma may also damage central vision. Unfortunately, once vision is lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored. Vision loss can be lessened, however, if glaucoma is detected and treated early.
Prevent Blindness America has joined other leading eye care groups to build awareness during January's National Glaucoma Awareness Month to educate the public on what they can do to help save their vision.
"Our key message is that, unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma. But the good news is that if detected and treated early, the effects of vision loss can be diminished," said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America. "We hope everyone has a happy and healthy 2011 and that it includes a visit to the eye doctor."
    There are many risk factors for glaucoma including:
  • Age: Those that are 40 and older are more likely to develop glaucoma. The older you are, the greater your risk.
  • Race: Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African American and Hispanic populations in America.
  • Family History: If you have a parent or sibling who has glaucoma, you are more likely to develop the disease.
  • Diabetes: People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing glaucoma.
  • Nearsightedness: People who are very nearsighted are at greater risk.
  • Eye Injury or Surgery: Those who have had eye surgery or eye injuries may develop secondary glaucoma.
  • Steroid Medication: Steroids may increase the risk of glaucoma when used for extended periods of time.
Prevent Blindness America offers a dedicated Web site for free information on glaucoma at preventblindness.org/glaucoma. Additional information may also be obtained in English or Spanish by calling (800) 331-2020.
About Prevent Blindness America. Founded in 1908, Prevent Blindness America is the nation's leading volunteer eye health and safety organization dedicated to fighting blindness and saving sight. Focused on promoting a continuum of vision care, Prevent Blindness America touches the lives of millions of people each year through public and professional education, advocacy, certified vision screening and training, community and patient service programs and research. These services are made possible through the generous support of the American public. Together with a network of affiliates, divisions and chapters, Prevent Blindness America is committed to eliminating preventable blindness in America. For more information, or to make a contribution to the sight-saving fund, call 1-800-331-2020. Or, visit us on the Web at preventblindness.org or facebook.com/preventblindness.