Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damages the eye’s optic nerve. It is a leading cause of vision loss and the leading cause of irreversible blindness. Because glaucoma often progresses slowly, people with glaucoma can lose most of their vision before they experience any symptoms. Central vision, which allows us to read, drive or watch TV, is unaffected until the disease is advanced. The key to preventing vision loss from glaucoma is early detection, diagnosis, and treatment.
Everyone is at risk for glaucoma, but certain circumstances are associated with greater risk. Talk to your eye doctor about your chance of getting glaucoma, especially if you have one or more of these risk factors.
Not getting regular comprehensive, eye-dilating eye exams is the most significant risk for glaucoma. Screening can detect it in its early stages, well before damage occurs.
Your risk for glaucoma increases a little with each year of age. While all ages are at risk, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that everyone get a baseline eye screening at 40.
The most common type of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, is hereditary. Therefore, if your immediate family members have glaucoma, your risk for the condition is greatly increased.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness among African Americans and people of African descent. Glaucoma is six to eight times more common in African Americans than Caucasians.
People of Asian descent are at an increased risk for two types of glaucoma less common in other ethnic groups: angle-closure glaucoma and normal-tension glaucoma. People of Japanese descent specifically have an increased risk for normal-tension glaucoma.
Hispanic Americans also face an increased risk for glaucoma, and the disease may also progress faster as they age, compared with other ethnic groups.
Other medical conditions may also contribute to the risk of developing glaucoma. For example, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and sickle cell anemia may increase your risk of getting glaucoma.
People with thinner corneas—the clear window to the eye—may have an increased risk of glaucoma.
Eye injuries caused by blunt trauma or those that penetrate the eye can alter the eye’s drainage mechanism, leading to glaucoma.
There is currently no cure for glaucoma, catching it early is your best defense. Make sure you are receiving regular, comprehensive eye exams.