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Glaucoma Awareness Month Brings Attention to Preventable Vision Loss


Monday, January 2, 2023   

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, and with no symptoms, experts say it's important for Missourians to get regular eye exams.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in the U.S. - although it's treatable when caught early, and vision loss can often be prevented.

It's estimated that more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, but half are unaware. Anyone can get glaucoma, but the higher-risk categories include people with a family history of the disease, anyone 60 or older, and African Americans 40 and older.

Glaucoma Research Foundation President and CEO Tom Brunner said regular eye exams are important because glaucoma can sneak up on you.

"Our brains are very smart and they compensate," said Brunner. "If you lose a little vision from the side, for example, you turn your head, you have two eyes. So your brain doesn't even notice that you're gradually losing vision. And you can lose as much as half of your vision without realizing it."

Brunner said it's important to talk with family members to discover if there is a family history of glaucoma.

The Missouri Prevention of Blindness Program offers free vision screenings at health fairs, and other community settings across the state. Event info is updated on the Missouri Department of Social Services Facebook page.

Glaucoma causes vision loss and blindness by damaging the optic nerve in the back of the eye.

In the most common form of glaucoma, which is 90% of all cases, the nerve damage is caused by an excess of fluid in the eye that raises the internal eye pressure.

Brunner said this type of glaucoma is treated by lowering the internal eye pressure with either eye drops or laser light therapy.

"For glaucoma," said Brunner, "you can shine light onto the area where the tissue drains to let the fluid out of the eye and literally stimulate that tissue to rejuvenate itself and lower the eye pressure. It can be a one-time treatment that can last for years. And it can be repeated."

He said laser treatment is becoming the primary initial therapy for the most common form of glaucoma.

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