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Raising the Awareness of Glaucoma: a Silent Thief of Sight

Every year, more than 100 thousand Americans develop the eye disease, glaucoma, yet half of them don't even know they have it. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness. Dr. Kevin Greenidge, who the ophthalmology department at the State University of New York Health Science Center in Brooklyn, talks to us more about this leading cause of preventable blindness.

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month and the Glaucoma Foundation is urging everyone to schedule a comprehensive eye examination with an eye care professional to check for the disease. Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness, afflicting anyone from newborn babies to senior citizens. However, having glaucoma doesn't necessarily mean you'll go blind. There are ways to control and manage the disease including some new information that certain aerobic exercises can be helpful.

  1. What causes glaucoma?

  2. Glaucoma is actually a group of disease that in many cases produces increased fluid pressure inside the eye. Over time, it can lead to damage to the optic nerve and loss of vision, usually side vision is lost first. Undetected and untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness. The disease is the leading cause of preventable blindness in this country.

  3. If someone is diagnosed with glaucoma, does that mean the person is destined to go blind?

  4. Not necessarily. The most important thing here is detection. If you catch it early enough, there are ways to manage and control the disease to prevent blindness. Treatments may include eye drops, pills, laser or conventional surgery. There are also several studies that indicate certain types of aerobic exercise such as bicycling, brisk walking, jogging, swimming and gym conditioning, can help manage glaucoma. It turns out that such exercise can lower the fluid pressure in the front compartment of the eye, reducing the risk of damage to the optic nerve in the back of the eye that might cause vision loss and potential blindness.

  5. Who is at greatest risk for glaucoma?

  6. Glaucoma can afflict anyone, from newborn babies to senior citizens. However, the disease primarily affects people over the age of 45. People of African descent are especially at risk: one in 13 African Americans has glaucoma and the disease occurs four to six times more often than among Caucasians. Other risk factors include a family history of glaucoma, near-sightedness, diabetes, a previous eye injury and regular use of cortisone or steroid products. And no matter what your race, sex or ethnic background, your risk of glaucoma increases with age.

  7. Are there any symptoms?

  8. Glaucoma is called the "sneak thief of sight" because it usually has no early warning symptoms and vision loss can occur without warning. It's estimated that about one and a half million Americans have glaucoma and don't even know that they have it.

  9. Is there a cue for glaucoma?

  10. No. There isn't a cure yet and lost sight cannot be restored. However, like I mentioned, once glaucoma is detected, there are ways to control and manage it. Just because you have glaucoma, doesn't automatically mean you'll have blindness.

  11. How is glaucoma detected?

  12. There is a simple, painless test that checks the fluid pressure in the eyes. It will determine how well you see at various distances, dilate your pupil with drops to inspect your optic nerve for signs of damage and, if necessary, measure your visual field to ascertain if you've lost any side vision.

  13. How often should people get tested for glaucoma?

  14. If you are 45 or older, you should get an eye exam every two years. If you are over 45 and African American or have any of the other risk factors we mentioned, get tested for glaucoma every year. Now, if you're under 45, you should get tested every four years. Every two years if you'runder the age of 45 with risk factors.

  15. Can glaucoma be prevented?

  16. There is nothing you can do to prevent getting glaucoma. So, early detection is extremely important and that's the message we're trying to get out to everyone.

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