By Elizabeth Muckley, OD – January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and the Ohio Optometric Association and the American Optometric Association are urging people of all ages to take control of their eye health through early detection to help minimize the risk of developing glaucoma. As primary eye care providers, optometrists are at the forefront in detecting this silent disease.
More than 2.7 million Americans and more than 60 million people worldwide have glaucoma. Experts estimate that half of them don’t know they have it. Combined with our aging population, we can see an epidemic of blindness looming if we don’t raise awareness about the importance of regular eye examinations to preserve vision.
The World Health Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to glaucoma. And according to data from the American Optometric Association’s 2013 American Eye-Q® consumer survey, Americans do not fully understand glaucoma:
- 72 percent think glaucoma has early warning signs. It does not; only a comprehensive eye exam administered by an eye doctor can detect the disease.
- 86 percent don’t know what part of vision glaucoma affects – progressive deterioration to peripheral vision, making it hard for the patient to see.
- 47 percent think glaucoma is preventable. It is not preventable, but it may be treated and progression can be slowed if it is detected and treated early.
Americans are also unaware if they are at risk for developing glaucoma; only 13 percent of Americans know that a person’s race could place them at a higher risk of developing glaucoma. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, those at higher risk include people of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent. Other high-risk groups include people over age 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted. As much as 40 percent of vision can be lost without a person noticing it.
Educate your patients about their risk of developing glaucoma and the importance of a yearly, comprehensive exam to detect this silent thief before unnecessary, irreversible vision loss occurs. As optometrists, we have a tremendous opportunity to change the course of this disease with timely detection and treatment.