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Updated Apr 16, 2014, 7:05 AM
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Glaucoma

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Glaucoma is a very misunderstood disease. Often, people don't realize the severity or who is affected.

Four Key Facts About Glaucoma

1. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness

Glaucoma can cause blindness if it is left untreated. And unfortunately approximately 10% of people with glaucoma who receive proper treatment still experience loss of vision.

2. There is no cure (yet) for glaucoma

Glaucoma is not curable, and vision lost cannot be regained. With medication and/or surgery, it is possible to halt further loss of vision. Since open-angle glaucoma is a chronic condition, it must be monitored for life. Diagnosis is the first step to preserving your vision.

3. Everyone is at risk for glaucoma

Everyone is at risk for glaucoma from babies to senior citizens. Older people are at a higher risk for glaucoma but babies can be born with glaucoma (approximately 1 out of every 10,000 babies born in the United States). Young adults can get glaucoma, too. African Americans in particular are susceptible at a younger age.

4. There may be no symptoms to warn you

With open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, there are virtually no symptoms. Usually, no pain is associated with increased eye pressure. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision. You may compensate for this unconsciously by turning your head to the side, and may not notice anything until significant vision is lost. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get tested. If you have glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately.

Some Statistics About Glaucoma

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Sources are listed at the bottom of this page.

  • It is estimated that over 4 million Americans have glaucoma but only half of those know they have it. (1)
  • Approximately 120,000 are blind from glaucoma, accounting for 9% to 12% of all cases of blindness in the U.S. (2)
  • About 2% of the population ages 40-50 and 8% over 70 have high eye pressure.
  • Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
  • Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans. (2)
  • Glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than Caucasians. (3)
  • African Americans ages 45-65 are 14 to 17 times more likely to go blind from glaucoma than Caucasians with glaucoma in the same age group.
  • The most common form, open-angle glaucoma, accounts for 19% of all blindness among African Americans compared to 6% in Caucasians. (4)
  • Other high-risk groups include: people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted.
  • Estimates put the total number of suspected cases of glaucoma at around 70 million worldwide. (5)

Public Awareness and Attitudes

A survey done for Glaucoma Research Foundation found that:

  • 74% of over 1,000 people interviewed said they have their eyes examined at least every two years.
  • 61% of those (less than half of all adult Americans) are receiving a dilated eye exam (the best and most effective way to detect glaucoma).
  • 16% of African Americans were unfamiliar with glaucoma.
  • 9% of Caucasians were unfamiliar with glaucoma.

A 2002 Prevent Blindness America Survey found that:

  • Blindness ranked third (after cancer and heart disease) as people's major fear.
  • 20% of people knew that glaucoma was related to elevated pressure within the eye. Most of them mistakenly thought people could tell if they had glaucoma due to symptoms, or that it was easily cured, or that it did not lead to blindness.
  • 50% had heard of glaucoma, but weren't sure what it was.
  • 30% had never heard of glaucoma.

Economic Impact

  • Glaucoma accounts for over 7 million visits to physicians each year. (1)
  • In terms of Social Security benefits, lost income tax revenues, and health care expenditures, the cost to the U.S. government is estimated to be over $1.5 billion annually. (6)

Determining Your Risk For Chronic Gaucoma:BewiseHealthwise

Determining Your Risk for Chronic Glaucoma
Risk Factor Category Score
Age 0 = younger than 50
1 = age 50 through 64
2 = age 65 through 74
3 = age 75 or older
Race 0 = Caucasian
1 = Hispanic
2 = African-American
Family history of glaucoma 0 = none or only in distant relatives
2 = one or both parents with glaucoma
3 = one or more siblings with glaucoma
3 = one or both parents AND one or more siblings with glaucoma
Last eye examination 0 = within the last two years
1 = two to five years ago
2 = more than five years ago
Score: Adding the appropriate numbers will determine your risk. High risk is a score of 4 or more; moderate risk is 3; low risk is 2 or less. Source: Glaucoma Service Foundation to Prevent Blindness, 2007.

Chronic glaucoma gradually reduces your peripheral vision. But by the time you notice it, permanent damage may have already occurred. If your IOP remains high, the damage can progress until significant loss of your peripheral vision develops, and you will be able to see only objects that are straight ahead.

Left untreated, chronic glaucoma can lead to blindness. According to the National Eye Institute, approximately 3 million Americans have open-angle glaucoma and as many as 120,000 are blind from the disease.

As with other forms of glaucoma, your treatment options may include topical glaucoma eye drops. Laser and/or nonlaser glaucoma surgery may also be recommended as a way to control IOP

BewiseHealthwise:Glaucoma:Your salient thief of Vision-What2Do


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Chronic glaucoma, also known as primary open-angle glaucoma or POAG, often is called "the silent thief of sight" because you have no warning sign, no pain and no hint that anything is wrong. About half of Americans with chronic glaucoma don't even know they have it.

In open-angle glaucoma, there is an imbalance in the production and drainage of the clear fluid (called the aqueous humor) that fills the eye's anterior chamber. This may occur because too much aqueous is produced by the ciliary body or the drainage channels (trabecular meshwork) in the anterior chamber are blocked, causing internal eye pressure (IOP) to rise.

As IOP increases, the pressure pushes harder against the nerve fibers of the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain. This increased pressure reduces the blood supply to the optic nerve, depriving it of oxygen and nutrients. Over time, high eye pressure can cause irreversible optic nerve damage and vision loss.

Risk factors for chronic or open-angle glaucoma include:

  • Age. Your risk for developing open-angle glaucoma increases significantly after age 40 and continues to increase with each additional decade. Aging also can cause drainage channels in the trabecular meshwork to shrink or narrow, which slows the outflow of fluid from the eye.
  • Certain medical problems. Diabetes, extreme nearsightedness and previous eye surgery are risk factors for chronic open-angle glaucoma. If you have a condition that requires the use of oral or inhaled steroids, particularly if high doses are needed for prolonged periods, this can increase your risk as well. Other medical conditions that may increase your risk of open-angle glaucoma include migraine headaches, high blood pressure, narrowed blood vessels (vasospasm) and cardiovascular disease.
  • Eye abnormalities. Certain abnormalities affecting internal eye structures can cause glaucoma. Pseudoexfoliation syndrome causes proteins in the eye's natural lens, iris and other structures to slough off and clog the eye's drainage system. Glaucoma also can result when a misshapen iris blocks the filtration angle where drainage occurs.
  • Race. Chronic glaucoma is three to four times more common in African-Americans than in whites. Also, African-Americans are more likely to develop an aggressive form of the disease at a younger age.
  • Family history. Your risk of developing open-angle glaucoma may be three to four times higher if one or more of your parents or siblings have the disease.

BewiseHealthwise: Know Glaucoma



Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that are characterized by progressive damage to the optic nerve resulting in impaired vision and sometimes blindness if left untreated (1)
The disease is charcterised by:

  • visual field loss - arcuate scotomas, nasal steps, altitudinal scotomas, focal defects e.g. paracentral scotomas (2)
  • optic disc changes - localised or generalised thinning of the neuroretinal rim, enlargement of the optic cup and increased cup to disc ratio (1)
  • nerve fiber layer defects (3)

Although in most cases there is an increase in intraocular pressure (IOP) which is sufficient to cause damage to the optic nerve head and changes in the visual field, the disease may be seen even in patients with normal IOP (4)

  • the mean value for intraocular pressure is 15-16 mm Hg with a standard deviation of +/- 2.5. The upper limit of normal is considered to be 21 mm Hg.
  • about 2% of adults have an intraocular pressure over 21 mmHg with no evidence of glaucoma (5)

Glaucoma can be described according to the:

  • cause – as primary (without an underlying cause) or secondary (due to another eye or systemic condition, trauma, or by certain medication)
  • anatomy of the anterior chamber angle of the eye – as either open angle glaucoma or angle closure glaucoma (3).

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