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January is Glaucoma Awareness Month and the NIH encourages getting an eye dilation exam

January 17, 2013 / Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

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(dailyRx News) Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the US, and it most often occurs in people over age 40. Early treatment, however, can save your sight.

In observance of Glaucoma Awareness Month this January, the National Eye Institute is encouraging Americans at higher risk for glaucoma to schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam.

"Have regular eye exams to check for glaucoma."

Paul A. Sieving, MD, director of the National Eye Institute, a part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH), says that about 2.7 million Americans aged 40 and older have primary open-angle glaucoma—the most common form—and this number is expected to grow.

According to the NIH, people at higher risk for glaucoma include African Americans aged 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.

If you are in any of these higher risk categories, you should not wait until you notice a problem with your vision to have an eye exam, advises Dr. Sieving in a statement.

Primary open-angle glaucoma develops slowly and usually without any symptoms, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). With this common type of glaucoma, fluid pressure in the eyes can build and cause progressive damage to the optic nerve and loss of nerve fibers.

Many people do not realize they have the condition until they have significant vision loss. Glaucoma affects peripheral or side vision first, but it can advance to central vision loss and even blindness if left untreated.

Only diabetes causes more blindness than glaucoma, according to the AOA.

Glaucoma can be detected in its early stages through a thorough dilated eye exam before vision loss occurs. During this exam, drops are placed in the eyes to dilate (widen) the pupils. When a patient’s pupils are dilated, an eye care professional can examine the optic nerve for signs of damage and other possible problems. An eye pressure test alone is not enough to detect glaucoma.

dailyRx News Contributing Expert Christopher Quinn, OD, president at Omni Eye Services in Iselin, New Jersey, and a member of the medical staff at Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, told the dailyRx News, "Since the most common form of glaucoma (primary open angle) causes no symptoms until the disease is very advanced, the importance of having a dilated eye exam by an eye doctor is the key to early diagnosis. Once diagnosed treatment can prevent blindness related to glaucoma. Routine dilated eye exams should be part of the preventative health care for all patients including those at increased risk of glaucoma."

No cure exists for glaucoma, but continuing treatment can preserve eyesight. Treatment focuses on reducing pressure in the eye. Often, patients are prescribed eye drops that must be taken regularly. In some cases, medications, laser treatment or other surgery may be recommended.

While the cause of this glaucoma is uncertain, the AOA says that inefficient drainage in the eye may be the culprit. In 2012, the National Eye Institute invested $71 million in a number of studies to understand the causes and potential areas of treatment for glaucoma.

The National Institutes of Health issued a press release on January 14 urging dilated eye exams to detect glaucoma.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
January 16, 2013
Last Updated:
August 19, 2013