Glaucoma is an issue that affects tens of millions of people every day – and as National Glaucoma Awareness Month gets underway, it’s time to see where we’re at and where we’ll be going.
The Basic Numbers
- Over 60 million people currently suffer from glaucoma, and over 3 million of these people currently live in the United States
- Open-angle glaucoma is the most common type, affecting about 95% of people who develop any form of this condition
- About 50% of people who have glaucoma are unaware of it because of the lack of symptoms during the early stages
- 74% of Americans have an eye exam every two years, but only 45% have a dilated eye exam (the best method of testing for glaucoma)
Observations and Trends
In the last few decades, we’ve made tremendous strides against glaucoma – so much so, in fact, that the probability of blindness from it has been cut in half. Much of this is attributed to greater public awareness and earlier treatment – the faster glaucoma is detected, the less damage it’s able to do over time. In fact, if it’s caught early enough, it may be possible to prevent it from doing any significant damage at all.
Until and unless we develop techniques to repair the optic nerve, awareness campaigns will never stop being important. The biggest problem with glaucoma is that it is irreversible – once the damage has been done, vision cannot be restored, so every delay in treatment makes it more likely that an individual suffering from glaucoma will eventually go blind as a result.
In addition, the average yearly costs of treatment range between $600 and $2500, typically costing more as the condition gets worse. With the average visit to an eye doctor only costing around $100, and visits taking place only once every year or two, it’s actually more affordable for at-risk patients to see their eye doctor on a regular basis.
Who Is Most Vulnerable to Glaucoma?
While everyone is at risk for developing glaucoma, the most vulnerable groups are:
- People of African descent
- People of Hispanic descent (especially over age 65)
- Anyone over age 40
- Anyone who suffers from conditions like high blood pressure, diabetes, and heart disease
- Anyone who has suffered ocular trauma (such as getting hit in the eye with a ball, especially if significant damage was done)
While it’s difficult to pin down the exact causes of glaucoma, looking at the vulnerable groups does give us a good idea of what causes it. Primarily, glaucoma seems to occur in anyone who has trouble regulating the internal pressure of their bodies, especially in the eyes. This can either be a direct effect (such as having a bone structure that puts pressure on the eyes) or a side-effect (such as having a higher or lower blood pressure because of medication being taken for other issues). High pressure is not the only risk factor, though – it’s merely one of the most common factors.
The American Optometric Association recommends having a dilated eye exam every year if you are in one of the vulnerable groups. Remember, there are few or no symptoms of glaucoma during its first few years. Regular eye exams are the best way of catching glaucoma early and preventing it from doing any further harm. If it is detected, treatment can begin right away.