Over three million Americans suffer from glaucoma, which is one of the leading causes of blindness. It has no early symptoms so detection is vital. Glaucoma can be detected in its early stages through a comprehensive dilated eye exam before vision loss occurs. Diabetics are in a high risk group for developing glaucoma.
The National Eye Institute (NEI), a part of the National Institutes of Health, observes Glaucoma Awareness Month every January by encouraging Americans to schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam and to make a habit of doing so every one to two years, especially those in the high risk category.
People at higher risk include African Americans age 40 and over; adults over the age of 60, especially those who are Mexican American; and people who have a family history of the disease. Other potential risk factors include high myopia, diabetes, eye surgery, eye injury, high blood pressure, and the use of corticosteroids.
Several studies have shown that eye pressure is a major risk factor for optic nerve damage. In open-angle glaucoma pressure inside the eye rises to a level that may damage the optic nerve. There are no initial symptoms. Eventually, peripheral vision is lost and an individual can become totally blind without treatment.
During a comprehensive dilated eye exam, drops are placed in the eyes to dilate, or widen, the pupils. This allows an eye care professional to examine the optic nerve for signs of damage and other possible problems. An eye pressure test alone is not enough to detect glaucoma.
The broad scope of NEI-funded glaucoma research ranges from gene therapy to stem cells, drug treatments, vaccines to protect the optic nerve cells, advanced imaging tools to view the retina and optic nerve, and new techniques to study glaucoma disease mechanisms, such as new mouse models that simulate glaucoma. These models enable scientists to study how increased eye pressure causes optic nerve cell death. For more information about glaucoma research programs at NEI, visit http://www.nei.nih.gov.
A new study recently published by Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, found that certain changes in blood vessels in the eye's retina can be an early warning. Patients who had abnormally narrow retinal arteries when the study began were also those who were most likely to have glaucoma at its 10-year end point, according to the American Health Assistance Foundation’s National Glaucoma Research.
This article was taken in part from a press release by National Institutes of Health. It is not intended to replace the medical advice of your physician. Readers are encouraged to make an appointment with your eye physician.
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