Blind World Magazine

Who's at risk for Glaucoma, and what they can do about it.

January 24, 2006.
The Norman Transcript.
Norman Transcript - Norman,OK,USA.

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness in the United States (after macular degeneration), but it doesn't have to be.

Here's what you should know:

Defining Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can damage the optic nerve and cause vision loss and blindness if it's not treated.

This typically happens because fluids in the eye don't drain properly, causing increased pressure in the eyeball.

The two main types of glaucoma that affect most people are:?

Open-angle glaucoma -- This is the most common form, accounting for around 80 percent of cases in the U.S. This type progresses very slowly when the eye's drainage canals become clogged over time, leading to blind spots in the peripheral vision, but by the time you notice it, the permanent damage already is done.

Angle-closure glaucoma -- Occurs when the drainage canal gets blocked, causing a rapid increase in eye pressure. Symptoms include nausea, blurred vision and severe pain. If you have these symptoms, get to an emergency room immediately.

No symptoms

The problem with most cases of glaucoma is there are no symptoms, so most people don't know (on their own) if they have it until their vision is impaired.

That is why it's very important to get regular exams with your eye doctor.

While there's currently no cure for glaucoma, most cases easily can be treated with medication which can prevent further vision loss.

If that doesn't work, your doctor may recommend laser or eye surgery or a combination of methods.

Risk factors

It's estimated more than three million Americans have glaucoma, but only about half of them know they have it. Are you one of them?

Here are some key factors that can increase your risks:

Age -- While anyone can get glaucoma, people over the age of 60 are six times more likely than those who are younger.

Family history -- Unfortunately, glaucoma tends to run in families. Having a brother, sister or parent with glaucoma increases your risk of developing this disease by five times.?

Race -- African-Americans have a much higher risk of developing glaucoma than any other ethnic group.

In fact, between ages 45 and 65, African-Americans are 15 times more likely to go blind from glaucoma than Caucasians in the same age group.

Hispanic-Americans also have an increased risk of developing glaucoma earlier in life, and Asians have a higher risk for developing angle-closure glaucoma.

Health conditions -- Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, migraine headaches and even being nearsighted can increase your risk.

Medications -- Studies show long-term use or high doses of steroid drugs or cortisone can put you at a higher risk.?

Injury -- An injury or trauma to the eye can cause glaucoma even years after it happened.

Savvy tips: The best way to protect your eyesight from glaucoma is with early detection.

If you are age 45 and older and have any risk factors, you should get a comprehensive eye examination at least once every two years.

Medicare will pay 80 percent for a dilated eye examination every year for all beneficiaries at high risk for glaucoma, but they don't cover treatment cost.

If you could use some eye care help, a great resource is EyeCare America, a nationwide program that provides free glaucoma eye exams and treatment (if necessary) to those who are uninsured.

It also offers a "senior eye care program" that provides free medical eye care to all U.S. citizens, age 65 and older, who have not seen an ophthalmologist in three or more years and don't belong to an HMO or the VA.

For more information, call (800) 222-3937 or visit

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit

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