January is always an important month in the eye care community. Although the first month has many of us looking forward to a new year, full of promise and optimism, it takes on a more important role to eye care providers for another reason. January is Glaucoma Awareness Month.
So what is glaucoma and why is it so serious that it warrants its own awareness month? Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve (the large nerve at the back of the eye that connects our eyes to our brain). Although it’s most commonly caused by chronically elevated internal eye pressure, glaucoma is widely considered a multifactorial condition with a variety of potential contributing risk factors. Among the most common risk factors are age over 60, family history/genetics and being of African or Hispanic descent. Ultimately however, damage to the optic nerve results in progressive and irreversible peripheral vision loss and potential blindness. Currently, glaucoma affects over 700 000 Canadians and 80 million people worldwide, with numbers expected to grow.
There are really 3 primary reasons why eye doctors want to bring awareness to this terrible condition:
- Glaucoma usually has no symptoms in its early stages. In fact, many patients have already progressed to moderate to advanced glaucoma when they are initially diagnosed. Eye pressure can and often is elevated without symptoms. Early peripheral vision loss can happen gradually and often goes undetected by patients.
- Glaucoma causes permanent/irreversible sight loss, potential blindness and has no cure.
- With regular eye exams, early detection and treatment, sight can be preserved.
I’m commonly asked by patients why someone should get a routine eye exam when they seemingly have good vision. Although there are a great many important reasons to have an eye exam, screening for glaucoma is typically one of the first reasons I list. So, this New Year, if it has been a while since your last visit, put getting an eye exam at the top of your resolution list (and keep it!)
Dr. Michael Main