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January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month

In an effort to increase awareness about the ''silent blinding diseases,'' this month has been declared National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness, accounting for 9%-12% of all cases of complete vision loss in the United States and effecting nearly 70 million people worldwide. Because the disease has no early symptoms, experts believe that nearly half of those with glaucoma are not aware of their illness.

Glaucoma is actually a number of eye diseases that have the common affect of causing damage to the eye's optic nerve, which is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain. Although anyone can develop glaucoma, those at higher risk include African Americans over 40 years of age, senior citizens, particularly Mexican Americans, and individuals with a family history of glaucoma.

Since vision loss due to optic nerve damage is irreversible, early diagnosis of glaucoma is essential. Symptoms of the disease, however, rarely manifest before optical nerve damage has taken place, and usually begin with an irreversible loss of peripheral (side) vision.

There is no treatment for glaucoma, however current methods of treatment, including medication or surgery, can halt the progression of the disease and prevent increased vision loss. The preferred treatment is dependent upon a few variables, which consider the type of damage and the advancement of the disease.

According to a recent survey of the National Eye Institute of the NIH, while glaucoma was known to ninety percent of the people they surveyed, only eight percent were aware that it presents no early warning symptoms. Only a qualified eye care professional can detect the early effects of glaucoma, by means of a thorough glaucoma screening. An annual glaucoma screening is your best defense against this often over-looked disease. Don’t delay in getting your yearly glaucoma screening before it’s too late.