Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world. In 2013, the number of people with glaucoma worldwide was estimated to be 64,3 million, increasing 76 million in 2020 and to 111,8 million in 2040.
While there are no known cures for glaucoma, blindness or significant vision loss from glaucoma can be prevented if the disease is recognized in the early stages. In its most prevalent form—primary open angle glaucoma—vision loss is silent, slow, and progressive. It typically affects side vision first (peripheral vision) and as it progresses, central vision is lost.
Although any vision which has been lost to glaucoma cannot be recovered, with early diagnosis, careful monitoring and regular use of treatments, the vast majority of people retain useful sight for life. Most cases of glaucoma have few or no early symptoms, about half of all glaucoma patients don't know they have it.
Currently, regular eye exams are the best form of prevention against significant glaucoma damage. The earlier the condition is discovered, the easier and cheaper it is to stop the disease from developing.
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a collective term for a group of eye conditions in which the main nerve to the eye (the optic nerve) is damaged where it leaves the eye. This nerve carries information about what is being seen from the eye to the brain and as it becomes damaged, vision is lost. This results in misty and patchy vision, with eventual loss of central vision, although this is rare.
In its early stages, glaucoma usually has no symptoms, which is what makes it so dangerous — by the time you notice problems with your sight, the disease has progressed to the point that irreversible vision loss has already occurred and additional loss may be difficult to stop.
In most cases, glaucoma is associated with higher-than-normal pressure inside the eye — a condition called ocular hypertension. But it also can occur when intraocular pressure (IOP) is normal. If untreated or uncontrolled, glaucoma first causes peripheral vision loss and eventually can lead to blindness.
Watch the video below for an in-depth review of the different types of Glaucoma.
Who is at risk and should be screened?
Anyone is at risk of getting glaucoma and should be screened. However, the risk of getting glaucoma gets higher as you age, especially after age of 40.
People/patients younger than 40, who have no known risk factors for glaucoma, should have a general eye exam every 5 to 10 years (including screening for glaucoma).
People who are at risk for glaucoma should be screened more often:
- Ages 40 to 54, every 1 to 3 years
- Ages 55 to 64, every 1 to 2 years
- Ages 65 and older, every 6 to 12 months
Any individual guidelines for screening given to a patient by their ophthalmologist, should always be followed instead of the general guidelines.
People at increased risk for glaucoma include those who:
- Are middle-aged and older. The risk of getting glaucoma gets higher as you age, especially after age of 40.
- Have a family history of glaucoma.
- Have high eye pressure (high intraocular pressure).
- Are African Americans (for open-angle glaucoma).
- Are East Asians and people with East Asian ancestry (for closed-angle glaucoma).
- Are farsighted (greater risk for developing closed-angle glaucoma).
- Have had an eye injury or eye surgery, such as cataract surgery.
- Have diabetes.
- Have high blood pressure (hypertension).
- Have been taking corticosteroid medicines (usually used to support the immune system by suppressing inflammation).