Jan. 12, 2019

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. This is an excellent time for Lee’s Summit citizens to become educated, to get their eyes checked and to get treatment if needed, before permanent and irreversible damage begins.

Experts call glaucoma “the sneak thief of sight” because there are no symptoms in the early stages such as blurred vision, a feeling of pressure in or behind the eye or pain. When a person finally notices a change in their sight over 40% of their optic nerve (the nerve that transmits the light from our eyes back to our brain) may be destroyed. This damage is permanent. Once the individual sees symptoms it can be difficult to prevent more damage, vision loss or potential blindness.

Experts estimate that over 3 million Americans have glaucoma and 50% of them don’t know it. It accounts for 9-12% of all blindness. As Americans age the Glaucoma Research Foundation predicts an epidemic of blindness looming. The purpose of Glaucoma Awareness Month is to educate people about the importance of regular eye exams to preserve vision. Many people are unaware that a simple and painless test at the eye doctor’s office can determine if a person has or is developing glaucoma. Treatment can be as simple as an eye drop once a day.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization. Glaucoma can affect people of all ages but is most common in middle aged and the elderly. Those at higher risk include people of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent. Other high-risk groups include: people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted.

Although active research to cure glaucoma continues, as of yet there is no cure. However there are excellent medications, and surgery for more severe cases, that can slow or prevent additional vision loss. The key to preventing permanent vision loss is early detection so treatment can begin as soon as possible.

Remember, you cannot tell if you have glaucoma in the early stages but your eye doctor can often detect it before damage even begins. That’s why making time to schedule regular comprehensive eyes exams is so important. If it’s been over a year since your last eye exam, give your local Lees Summit eye doctor a call to make sure you are not at risk of losing your vision from glaucoma.

Author Doug Herriott, OD, FSLS, is an optometrist with Eyecare Associates of Lee’s Summit. Dr. Herriott also serves as a member of the Lee’s Summit Health Education Advisory Board, a mayor-appointed, volunteer board that promotes and advocates community health by assessing health issues, educating the public and government agencies, developing plans to address health issues, encouraging partnerships and evaluating the outcomes.