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The worldwide prevalence of glaucoma is increasing. This is due in part to the rapidly aging population. Vision loss from glaucoma greatly impacts the independence of many people who are part of this aging population.
In addition to the impact glaucoma has on personal lives, there is an increasing economic burden on society.
As a visitor to the Glaucoma Research Foundation website, it is likely you may either have glaucoma or know someone close to you who is affected by it. Indeed, glaucoma can have a serious impact on your quality of life.
It is critical to reinforce the importance of preventing vision loss through timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment.
How common is glaucoma? At the current time there are over 60 million people worldwide with glaucoma. Most interesting, about half of the people who have glaucoma don't even know it. Think about that. In the United States, we have 2.2 million Americans who have glaucoma, and about half do not even know it.
The longer you live, the more likely you are to have glaucoma. In 2010, it is estimated that 8.4 million individuals worldwide are blind from primary open-angle glaucoma. By the year 2020, it is estimated that there will be 11 million individuals who are blind from glaucoma.
Certain ethnic populations are at high risk. For some time we have known that individuals of African ancestry are at very high risk. We are now learning that Hispanic individuals and certain Asian populations also are at very high risk. In terms of treatment, there is a challenge to diagnose and treat glaucoma before vision loss has occurred.
Why is diagnosis and treatment delayed? One reason is that glaucoma is painless. Secondly, the visual symptoms are often very late. Only half of those who are actually diagnosed with glaucoma have any symptoms at all.
Most of the time, a glaucoma patient is unaware of any vision loss. And elderly individuals, who are at the greatest risk for developing glaucoma, often attribute their loss of vision to just growing old. Vision loss from glaucoma is silent, it is slow, it is progressive, it is irreversible, but it is treatable. Glaucoma blindness is preventable.
How do we treat glaucoma? Currently, we reduce eye pressure to slow the worsening optic nerve damage, to preserve visual function and, most significantly, to preserve quality of life.
The key to preserving vision is timely diagnosis and treatment, through regular complete eye examinations; and the purpose of glaucoma treatment is to allow the glaucoma patient to maintain his or her independence and quality of life.
Article by Robert N. Weinreb, MD, Distinguished Professor of Ophthalmology and Director of the Hamilton Glaucoma Center at the University of California, San Diego in La Jolla, CA.
Last reviewed on December 15, 2010
This article appeared in the May 2008 issue of Gleams.Subscribe