CLARKSBURG, MD.-Glaucoma is called “the sneak thief of sight,” because it often has no symptoms until there is irreversible vision loss making it the leading cause of blindness worldwide affecting approximately 65 million people according to the World Health Organization. The American Health Assistance Foundation (AHAF) encourages everyone to join with them in observance of the second annual World Glaucoma Day on March 12, 2009.
Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases involving damage to the optic nerve, the bundle of nerve fibers that carry information from the eye to the brain. The damage can lead initially to a loss of side vision and ultimately to complete blindness. Although there is no cure for glaucoma there is sight saving treatment, therefore, the sooner a person is diagnosed, the more vision can be preserved. It is of vital importance that those at risk be screened regularly by their eye doctor.
What causes glaucoma? Researchers are actively exploring why damage occurs to the optic nerve; however, elevated eye pressure is a significant risk factor. In the healthy eye fluid is made constantly and provides nutrients to the cornea and lens. The fluid circulates in the front part of the eye and drains through a spongy tissue called the trabecular meshwork, a network of canals through which fluid exits the eye. Normally there is a balance between the amount of fluid produced and the amount that leaves the eye. If this fluid balance is not maintained and there is more fluid in the eye then there should be then there is a buildup of pressure. This buildup of pressure is associated with damage to the optic nerve and development of glaucoma.
There are many different kinds of glaucoma including the most common type, open-angle glaucoma, caused by the buildup of fluids and pressure. Other types of glaucoma include: normal-tension glaucoma, a form of the disease in which optic nerve damage occurs with normal eye pressure. Although this form of the disease is not well understood, it is suspected that an unusually fragile optic nerve or decreased blood flow to the optic nerve are to blame for the damage. Closed-angle glaucoma is rare and may be either chronic or occur quite suddenly when the normal flow of fluid between the iris and lens is blocked. Symptoms of this type of glaucoma include eye pain, nausea, vomiting, blurred vision and seeing halos around lights. This is a medical emergency and needs prompt treatment as blindness can result in one or two days. Other forms of glaucoma are congenital, secondary, pigmentary, and neovascular glaucoma as well as pseudoexfoliation glaucoma.
Who develops glaucoma?
Glaucoma can occur in anyone at any age, however, there are specific risk factors. African Americans and Hispanics in the United States are particularly at risk as are people over age 60. All types of glaucoma tend to run in families which may explain why certain races are more often affected by various forms of the disease. In addition, for open-angle glaucoma, other risk factors include high fluid pressure in the eye, suspicious optic nerve appearance, and thin corneas (Lasik surgery used to reduce a person's dependence on glasses causes the cornea to become thinner than normal; notify your doctor if you have had this procedure). Potential risk factors are severe nearsightedness, diabetes, eye injury or surgery, high blood pressure and use of corticosteroids (eye drops, pills, inhalers and creams).
How will the doctor make a diagnosis?
To determine if a person has glaucoma the doctor will: dilate or enlarge the pupils to get a good view of the inside of the eye, measure eye pressure, test the visual field, have the patient read an eye chart, determine corneal thickness, and take a picture of the optic nerve.
What treatments will be prescribed?
Medication in the form of eye drops is the usual first line of treatment. To be effective, glaucoma medications must be used consistently and exactly as directed by your doctor. Surgery is an option if medications fail. Although there are situations where surgery is the first recommended treatment, consulting with your doctor is the best bet for understanding the disease and best treatment.
The American Health Assistance Foundation is working everyday to learn more about this devastating disease by funding research to look for additional treatment options and cures. Grants to researchers go primarily to young scientists just starting their research careers and to senior investigators proposing particularly innovative early stage research. “Finding a cure for glaucoma would end the number one cause of blindness worldwide and be a huge contribution to the world of medical treatments and cures,” said Kathleen Honaker, Executive Director of AHAF. To date the American Health Assistance Foundation has funded $90 million dollars in research in an effort to find cures for glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and Alzheimer's disease.
For additional information and resources on glaucoma; causes, symptoms, treatment, coping strategies or research, contact AHAF by visiting the website at www.ahaf.org or calling 800-437-2423.
World Glaucoma Day is sponsored by the World Glaucoma Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Association.
The American Health Assistance Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to finding cures for age-related and degenerative diseases by funding research worldwide on glaucoma, macular degeneration and Alzheimer's disease. AHAF also provides the public with free information about these diseases, including risk factors, preventative lifestyles, available treatments and coping strategies.
Pseudoexfoliation glaucoma occurs when there are flakes of material at the edge of the pupil, on the lens, in the drainage structures, and throughout other structures primarily in the front of the eye. When the eye’s drainage system is clogged by this flaky pseudoexfoliative material, the eye pressure can increase and lead to glaucoma.