January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, and with no symptoms, experts say it is important for North Carolinians to get regular eye exams.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S., although it is treatable when caught early, and vision loss can often be prevented.
It is estimated more than three million Americans have glaucoma, but half are unaware. Anyone can get glaucoma, but the higher-risk categories include people with a family history of the disease, anyone 60 or older, and African Americans 40 and older.
Richie Kahn, a health policy advocate in Durham, was initially diagnosed with glaucoma but eventually discovered he suffered from a less common condition affecting his vision. He said it is important to get regular eye exams.
“There are relatively few signs or symptoms,” Kahn pointed out. “But through early detection and screening, if you are able to catch glaucoma early and treat it appropriately, you can either slow vision loss, or prevent vision loss from continuing.”
Experts recommend talking to family members to find out if you have a family history of glaucoma.
Glaucoma causes vision loss and blindness by damaging the optic nerve in the back of the eye. In 90% of all cases, the nerve damage is caused by an excess of fluid in the eye which raises the internal eye pressure.
Tom Brunner, president and CEO of the Glaucoma Research Foundation, said it is treated by lowering the internal eye pressure with either eye drops or laser light therapy.
“For glaucoma, you can shine light onto the area where the tissue drains to let the fluid out of the eye and literally stimulate that tissue to rejuvenate itself and lower the eye pressure,” Brunner explained. “It can be a one-time treatment that can last for years. And it can be repeated.”
He added laser treatment is becoming the primary initial therapy for the most common form of glaucoma.
This story was written by Brett Peveto, a producer at Public News Service, where this story first appeared.