January is National Glaucoma Awareness month, and drawing further attention to this disease are the results of a 10-year study conducted by the Centre for Vision Research, University of Sydney, Australia. Researchers found that the abnormal narrowing of blood vessels in the eye could be an early indicator in diagnosing Open-angle glaucoma (OAG), the most prevalent form of glaucoma. In the US alone, over 2.7 million people have OAG. Looking at statistics, this means that over the span of a decade, there’s been a 22% increase in cases—an especially disturbing number as around half of those with OAG don’t even know they have it. Early glaucoma is symptomless, hence the nickname the “sneak thief of sight” and the importance of the Sydney study, led by Paul Mitchell, MD, PhD.
"Our results suggest that a computer-based imaging tool designed to detect narrowing of the retinal artery caliber, or diameter, could effectively identify those who are most at risk for open-angle glaucoma," said Dr. Mitchell. "Such a tool would also need to account for blood pressure and other factors that can contribute to blood vessel changes. Early detection would allow ophthalmologists to treat patients before optic nerve damage occurs and would give us the best chance of protecting their vision."
This is significant because, as a disease that doesn’t show symptoms until it’s either too late to reverse them or treatment options become minimal, early detection is your eyes’ best defense, especially for seniors. According to the National Eye Institute website, over 4 million Americans have some form of glaucoma. The Institute’s Director, Paul A. Sieving, MD, PhD, confirms the importance of the Australian study’s results and also offers related advice, “NEI-funded research has shown that treatment during the early stages of glaucoma can control the disease and prevent future vision loss and blindness. This is why NEI encourages people at higher risk for glaucoma to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam every one to two years."
After the age of 40, it’s a good idea to get a full eye exam no matter what, but according to the NEI website, those who are most at risk for developing glaucoma are all people of Hispanic descent over 60, African Americans over 40 and anyone with a family history of the disease.
Let National Glaucoma Awareness Month be your reminder to get that crucial eye exam for yourself and loved ones. It may just save someone’s sight.