January is Glaucoma Awareness Month
During January, experts are stressing the importance of eye exams to protect against glaucoma and point out that a pressure test isn't enough.
Balintfy: January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. And what is glaucoma?
Tsai: Glaucoma is a group of diseases that is one of the leading causes of blindness and visual impairment for Americans and many people worldwide.
Balintfy: Dr. James Tsai is the Chair of Ophthalmology at the Yale School of Medicine, and Chair of the Glaucoma Subcommittee for the National Eye Health Education Planning Committee at the NIH's National Eye Institute. He says what these diseases have in common is that they damage the eye's optic nerve.
Tsai: Damage to the optic nerve can initially cause blind spots at the outer edges of the field of vision, called the peripheral or side vision. Sometimes patients will complain of some eye discomfort. But the scary thing about glaucoma is often times the disease is asymptomatic, that is patients do not have any warning signs or symptoms.
Balintfy: He warns that damage to the optic nerve leads to vision loss, so early detection through screening is needed.
Tsai: We believe that patients and people should visit an eye care professional every one to two years for a dilated eye exam. It's important just not to focus on the eye pressure. You can have glaucoma with normal eye pressures. So the eye care professional has to do a dilated eye exam and carefully look at the optic nerve for signs of glaucoma as well as asses the side vision or visual field in that patient.
Balintfy: Dr. Tsai adds that certain ethnic groups are at higher risk for glaucoma.
Tsai: African-Americans are particularly at higher risk for developing blindness from glaucoma, also patients who are 40-years or older, everyone over age 60, especially elderly Mexican-Americans. And finally, people with a family history of glaucoma also are at higher risk. Also, if you are either profoundly far-sighted or near-sighted you also may be at risk for developing glaucoma.
Balintfy: He says that early detection of glaucoma is especially important in helping older adults retain their vision and independence.
Tsai: We as eye-care professionals realize that the more vision we're able to preserve in patients, the more we're likely to make them comfortable living alone and continue to live independent lives.
Balintfy: Dr. Tsai emphasizes that glaucoma can be a challenging disease to manage.
Tsai: And the reason is it often times is quite insidious—it causes very slow vision loss that is very difficult to perceive especially in its early stages. And the therapies that we often times use sometimes have some side effects so its important for the patient to establish a very close relationship with their eye care provider so that they understand what the potential for their vision loss could be and they understand all the therapies that would help them keep their vision.
Balintfy: For more information on glaucoma and eye health research, visit www.nei.nih.gov. For NIH Radio, this is Joe Balintfy— NIH...Turning Discovery Into Health®
About This Audio Report
Reporter: Joe Balintfy
Sound Bite: Dr. James Tsai
Topic: glaucoma, vision, blindness, blind, vision loss, eye, optic nerve, eye health, early detection, screening, dilated eye exam, eye exam, eye pressure
Facts About Glaucoma