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January Is Glaucoma Awareness Month

January 15 2023

Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S., but many people don’t know they have it. African Americans and Latinos are 10 times more likely to get glaucoma than Caucasians, which means minority populations are at an even higher risk for developing this condition without realizing it. 

For these reasons, we kick off the new year by recognizing Glaucoma Awareness Month. Read on as a Lake Stevens, WA optometrist talks about glaucoma and preventative measures you can take to protect your eyes from this disease.

Glaucoma – A Leading Cause of Blindness

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. Basically, it’s a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve in ways that can lead to vision loss if left untreated. 

If you have glaucoma, you might not experience symptoms until there’s significant vision loss—and by then it may be too late for treatment to help. Here are some things you need to know about the disease:

There are no early signs or symptoms, so it’s important for everyone—even those without risk factors—to get regular eye exams with an ophthalmologist (an eye doctor).

Early detection allows doctors time to slow down or even stop further damage before permanent vision loss occurs.

People Most at Risk

African Americans and Latinos are 10 times more likely to get glaucoma than Caucasians. This is because they have a greater risk of developing open-angle glaucoma, the most common type of glaucoma.

African Americans and Latinos are more likely to get glaucoma because they are genetically predisposed to develop it. Glaucoma is an inherited condition that runs in families, so if you have a parent or sibling with this disease, you may be at higher risk for developing it yourself.

The only way to prevent open-angle glaucoma is through regular eye exams by an eye doctor who knows how to diagnose this disease early on. 

Glaucoma Testing

A single test called the Tonopen can be used to detect early signs of glaucoma. This simple, painless exam by an eye doctor uses sound waves to measure pressure inside your eyes—which helps determine whether or not you have glaucoma and need treatment.

Early Detection Is Key

If detected early, glaucoma can be treated or managed with medication or surgical procedures. However, once symptoms are present it may be too late to prevent blindness as half of all cases progress without any noticeable warning signs.

Our Advice on Glaucoma Awareness Month in 2024

What are the specific genetic factors that make African Americans and Latinos more susceptible to developing glaucoma?

African Americans and Latinos are genetically more susceptible to developing glaucoma, particularly the primary open-angle type, due to variations in their genetic makeup that affect eye structure and function. These populations often have thinner corneal thickness and different optic nerve anatomy, which can increase intraocular pressure and susceptibility to optic nerve damage. Additionally, there is a higher prevalence of genes in these groups that may contribute to altered fluid drainage in the eye, a key factor in glaucoma development. Regular screenings are crucial due to these inherited traits that heighten risk.

Apart from race and genetics, what are other risk factors for glaucoma, such as age, medical conditions, or lifestyle habits?

Apart from race and genetics, several other risk factors contribute to the likelihood of developing glaucoma. Age is a significant factor; individuals over 60 are at higher risk, especially if there is a family history of the disease. Medical conditions such as diabetes, hypertension, and heart disease also elevate the risk. Lifestyle choices can impact risk as well; for instance, prolonged steroid use and severe eye injuries can lead to secondary glaucoma. Regular eye exams are critical for early detection and management of these risk factors.

What is the difference between open-angle glaucoma and other types of glaucoma?

Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, involves a slow clogging of the drainage canals, resulting in increased eye pressure. It develops gradually and is often symptomless until significant vision loss occurs. In contrast, angle-closure glaucoma, another type, is characterized by rapid or sudden blockage of drainage, leading to quick, painful pressure increases. This requires immediate treatment to prevent vision loss. Other forms like normal-tension glaucoma occur despite normal eye pressure, and secondary glaucoma results from another disease or injury that affects eye pressure. Each type requires specific management strategies.

How frequently should individuals at high risk for glaucoma undergo eye exams?

Individuals at high risk for glaucoma should undergo comprehensive eye exams more frequently to enable early detection and management of the disease. For those over the age of 40 with risk factors such as a family history of glaucoma, African American or Latino heritage, or pre-existing health conditions like diabetes or hypertension, annual eye exams are recommended. Those under 40 with similar risk factors should consider an eye exam every two years. Adjustments may be necessary based on specific medical advice and any observed changes in vision or eye health.

What are the success rates of surgical procedures for glaucoma?

Surgical procedures for glaucoma generally have good success rates, varying by type and individual patient circumstances. Trabeculectomy, one of the most common surgeries, has success rates of about 70-90% for lowering eye pressure and preventing further vision loss when medications and laser treatments are insufficient. Glaucoma implant surgeries also show similar success rates. Minimally invasive glaucoma surgeries (MIGS) offer safer profiles with lower complications and are effective, particularly in mild to moderate cases. Success often depends on the stage of glaucoma, adherence to post-operative care, and ongoing monitoring.

If you have more questions or wish to schedule an eye exam, please feel free to call us, your local Lake Stevens, WA optometrist anytime!

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