Knowing Your Risks Can Stop the Sneak Thief of Sight

African and Hispanic ethnic groups and others with a family history of

glaucoma are particularly vulnerable

Jan 03, 2008, 00:00 ET from American Academy of Ophthalmology

    SAN FRANCISCO, Jan. 3 /PRNewswire/ -- Glaucoma is a stealthy illness;
 most people have no early symptoms and do not notice as their peripheral
 vision diminishes or blind spots occur. As a result, about half of the
 three million Americans with the disease are unaware of their condition.
 January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, and through the EyeSmart(TM) Campaign,
 the American Academy of Ophthalmology and EyeCare America, a public service
 program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, want to
 remind people that knowing your risk for the disease can save your sight.
 If untreated, glaucoma ultimately results in blindness.
     "Glaucoma can be a 'sneak thief' illness, and currently there is no
 treatment to restore vision once it's lost," said Kuldev Singh, MD, MPH,
 Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of the Glaucoma Service at Stanford
 University School of Medicine, and clinical correspondent for the Academy.
 "But when we catch glaucoma early and closely monitor and treat people, we
 can significantly slow its progression and minimize vision loss."
     Because glaucoma is a leading cause of preventable blindness, the
 American Glaucoma Society and the Glaucoma Research Foundation are joining
 the Academy and EyeCare America in urging Americans to know their risks for
 the disease.
     Among Americans, higher risk groups include those of African or
 Hispanic heritage and others with a family history of the illness. Elderly
 individuals with African ancestry are five times more likely to develop
 glaucoma and 14 to 17 times more likely to become blind than similar aged
 individuals 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.
     A national survey commissioned in 2007 by the Academy for the EyeSmart
 campaign found that only 24 percent of people in ethnic groups at higher
 risk for glaucoma were aware of their risk, and only 16 percent of those
 with a family history of eye disease, including glaucoma, could correctly
 identify the risk factors for those diseases.
     Other glaucoma risk factors include aging, nearsightedness, previous
 eye injuries, steroid use, and health conditions including cardiovascular
 disorders, diabetes, and migraine headache.
     For individuals with symptoms of or at risk for eye diseases like
 glaucoma, the Academy recommends that they see their ophthalmologist to
 determine how frequently their eyes should be examined. The Academy
 recommends that those with no symptoms or risk factors for eye disease get
 a baseline screening at age 40 when the signs of disease and change in
 vision may start to occur.
     About Glaucoma
     Glaucoma damages the optic nerve, the part of the eye that carries the
 images we see to the brain. As glaucoma worsens, cells die in the retina --
 a special, light-sensitive area of the eye -- reducing the optic nerve's
 ability to relay visual information to the brain. In the most common form
 of the disease, open-angle glaucoma, peripheral vision usually narrows,
 then other blank spots occur in the visual field. Symptoms of the less
 common but more acutely dangerous form of the disease, closed-angle
 glaucoma, include blurred vision, severe eye pain and headache,
 rainbow-colored halos around lights, and nausea and vomiting. Anyone with
 these symptoms needs to be seen by an Eye M.D. right away.
     More information on glaucoma and how to preserve vision, as well as how
 to access care, is available on the Academy-sponsored web site Additional information is also available at the
 American Glaucoma Society web site,, and at the
 Glaucoma Research Foundation web site,
     Broadcast eds: Glaucoma B-roll footage is available from the Academy.
 Please contact the Academy's media relations department for download
     About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
     The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world's largest
 association of eye physicians and surgeons-Eye M.D.s-with more than 27,000
 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three "O's" --
 opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists. It is the ophthalmologist, or
 Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases and injuries, and perform eye
 surgery. To find an Eye M.D. in your area, visit the Academy's web site at

SOURCE American Academy of Ophthalmology