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January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month

To spread the word about the ''sneak thief of sight,'' this month has been named National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable permanent vision loss, accounting for 9%-12% of all cases of total vision loss in the United States and effecting nearly 70 million people worldwide. Because the disease is initially asymptomatic, experts believe that close to 50% of patients with the disease are not aware of their condition.

Glaucoma is the name for a number of ocular diseases that have the common affect of causing damage to the eye's optic nerve, which is responsible for carrying images to the brain. Although glaucoma can affect people of all ages, there are particular populations that are at higher risk such as African Americans above 40 years of age, anyone over age 60, particularly Mexican Americans, and those with a family history of the disease.

Since blindness of this kind can not be restored, vision can only be preserved through early diagnosis. Symptoms of the disease, however, rarely manifest before optical nerve damage has taken place, often being noticed when peripheral (side) vision is already gone.

Treatment for glaucoma is determined based on the type of glaucoma and the extent of the vision loss, and includes pressure-reducing eye surgery or medications, often eye drops. While scientists are working hard to find a cure, it has not yet been found and therefore proper diagnosis and treatment are essential to preserve vision. Because glaucoma is a chronic disease, it is preferable to find an eye doctor you trust.

According to a recent survey of the National Eye Institute of the NIH, while ninety percent of people had heard of glaucoma, only eight percent knew that it presents no early warning symptoms. Only a qualified eye doctor can identify the initial signs of glaucoma, using a thorough glaucoma screening. A yearly glaucoma screening is the most effective way to prevent damage from this potentially devastating disease. Don’t delay in getting a comprehensive eye exam before it’s too late.