The eyes have it – ocular health is key to maintaining lifelong sight! But all peeper puns aside, January is Glaucoma Awareness Month.
Glaucoma is the term for a set of diseases that damages the optic nerve, resulting in vision loss and blindness. The most common form of glaucoma results in an increase in eye pressure. This key symptom is what is measured by that tiny puff of air administered during your optometry visits. Imbalance in the production and drainage of fluid in the eye causes high pressure, which damages the optic nerve. There are often no early symptoms detected by individuals as vision loss begins with peripheral sight. In fact, 50% of people with glaucoma are not aware they have the disease. Amazingly, as much as 40% of vision can be lost before a person will notice changes to their sight. These imperceptible symptoms are why glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.
Besides being aware of your risk for glaucoma, it is important to keep your eyes as as healthy as possible. Wear sunglasses to protect your eyes from damaging ultraviolet rays. Always wear protective eyewear when playing sports or working in conditions with flying debris or dust. Give your eyes a rest for 20 seconds every 20 minutes while reading, watching television, or looking at your computer for extended periods of time. Eat a diet rich in fruits and dark leafy greens such as spinach and kale to promote health internally. Externally, avoid touching your eyes as much as possible. If you need to touch your eyes, always wash your hands prior to cleaning your eyes or inserting contact lenses.
Maintaining overall health is also key to eye health, which is why it is important to watch your weight, avoid smoking, control your blood pressure, and get at least 30 minutes of physical activity daily. Those at the highest risk for glaucoma are people with family members who are diagnosed with the disease, African Americans over the age 40, and everyone over the age 60, especially Hispanic and Latino populations.
Currently more than 3 million Americans are diagnosed with glaucoma. This number is expected to increase by 58% by the year 2030, which is why it is so important to adhere to the above guidelines. In addition, it is crucial to schedule yearly comprehensive eye exams to catch any symptoms as early as possible. Progress of the disease can be slowed by medications and/or surgery, but as of now there is no cure for glaucoma. If you are interested in reading about or donating to research for the cure for glaucoma, you can visit the Glaucoma Research Foundation for more information at www.Glaucoma.org.