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  • Glaucoma: The Sneak Thief of Sight

    Jan. 09, 2013

    It's called a silent illness, because most people have no early symptoms of glaucoma and do not notice as their peripheral vision diminishes or blind spots occur. Yet the potentially blinding disease affects more than 2.3 million Americans age 40 and older. Another 2 million do not know they have the disease.

    "There is currently no treatment to restore the vision lost to glaucoma," said Kuldev Singh, MD, MPH, professor of ophthalmology and director of the glaucoma service at Stanford University School of Medicine. "But when we catch the disease early and closely monitor and treat people, we can significantly slow its progression and minimize vision loss."

    January is Glaucoma Awareness Month—a good time to review your risk for glaucoma, as well as that of loved ones. Family history is a significant risk factor for the disease, as is ethnicity.

    • Among Americans, higher-risk groups include those of African or Hispanic heritage and others with a family history of the illness.
    • Elderly people with African ancestry are five times more likely to develop glaucoma and 14 to 17 times more likely to become blind than similarly aged people with European ancestry.
    • The risk for Hispanic Americans rises markedly after age 60.
    • Those of any ethnicity who have a family history of the illness are four to nine times more susceptible.

    If you have symptoms of or are at risk for eye diseases like glaucoma, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends seeing your ophthalmologist to determine how frequently your eyes should be examined. If you are age 65 and older or have high risks for glaucoma, you may qualify for an eye exam at no out-of-pocket cost through the Academy's EyeCare America program. Those with no symptoms or risk factors for eye disease should get a baseline screening at age 40 when the signs of disease and change in vision may start to occur.