Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness, but with no warning signs many people may have it without even knowing it. NY1's Jill Urban filed the following report.
It’s one of the leading causes of blindness. Approximately 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma and many more likely have it and don’t even know it.
"There are 40 different types of glaucoma. All of them damage the optic nerve which is the transmission cable that takes information from our eye to our brain," explains Dr. Jack Cioffi, the Chairman of Ophthalmology of Columbia Doctors.
Glaucoma effects about two to three percent of the population over 40 and about 15 percent of people over 80. Similar to high blood pressure, glaucoma is a silent offender. Most people have no idea there is a problem until they start losing vision.
With glaucoma there are no warning signs or symptoms. Once a patient starts losing vision, the damage is already done. That’s why it’s so important to see an eye doctor, especially for those who are at high risk. If you are over the age of 60, African American or if you have a family history, you should see your eye doctor regularly.
Screenings are the only way to detect the disease in its early stages. The damage from glaucoma can’t be reversed, but medication and surgery can stop the progression and deterioration of the optic nerve. That’s why it is so important to catch it early. Many people don’t realize that sense of urgency and unfortunately dismiss the initial vision loss as a sign of aging or something else.
"So often times the first sensations that people get from vision loss from glaucoma is a graying or a contrast change. Also, trouble with glare. The problem with that is these are the same symptoms that may occur with other diseases such as macular degeneration or cataracts. And some of us just think that as we get older, it’s natural that your vision isn’t quite as good so you ignore it," says Dr. Cioffi.
Doctors say even if you don’t need glasses, you should still have a comprehensive eye exam. Most recommend exams at least every year or two.
For more information on glaucoma, visit glaucoma.org.