Monday, March 10, 2014

Glaucoma – the “sneak thief” of sight

By: Leo Semes, OD _ Professor, UAB School of Optometry.

 You may have seen recent headlines about glaucoma awareness.  Prevent Blindness America, whose mission is to educate the public about causes of blindness, glaucoma being the second-leading cause in the USA, has this resource.  (; accessed January 8, 2014).  Diagnosis of glaucoma often is delayed due to the fact that is typically symptomless for vision loss until significant damage had occurred, hence the awareness campaign

In a larger sense, the World Glaucoma Association is campaigning globally the World Glaucoma Week 2014, “BIG – beat invisible glaucoma.”  Celebrated March 9-15 this year, this clever slogan is a reminder to all that glaucoma is often a symptomless and painless disorder that can lead to blindness.  I should know, my mother was diagnosed early in life with glaucoma, treated and yet lost vision to the disease.  Contemporary management of glaucoma has improved over that past generation and consists of reducing the No. 1 risk factor – elevated intraocular pressure (IOP).   In fact, the FDA has approved a number of very efficacious topically applied drops to lower IOP.  Administration is typically once to three times per day which enhances compliance on the part of the patient as well minimizes side effects. 

A positive family history has been linked to an increased risk of developing glaucoma, along with a number of additional factors.  Studies from the early 1990s indicated that roughly one-half of glaucoma is undiagnosed.  While the prevalence of glaucoma is somewhere in the neighborhood of 4%, the proportion undiagnosed represents a large number at risk for vision loss.  Unfortunately, while diagnostic strategies have advanced to uncover early damage over the past three decades, the undiagnosed percentages remain. 

A comprehensive eye examination includes measurement of IOP.  In addition, suspicion of early damage by observation of characteristic features of damage or vision loss can prompt definitive testing to confirm or rule out a diagnosis.  Definitive testing includes direct observation and digital imaging of the optic nerve and retinal nerve fiber layer as well as a visual field test that measures sensitivity of the retina and can identify early functional loss.  If glaucoma is identified, new treatment options have shown significant progress in reducing the likelihood of blindness over a lifetime.  So, if you have a family member diagnosed with glaucoma, see your eye care professional.  UAB Eye Care (205 975-2020) offers comprehensive eye examinations that include screening for glaucoma as well advanced testing and treatment options if glaucoma is identified. 

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