TOPEKA, Kan. (WIBw) - An estimated 2.2 million Americans have glaucoma, but health officials say only half of them know they have it.
Being blind to the risk puts a person at risk of going blind.
Dr. Babak Marefat, an opthamologist with Topeka's Cotton-O'Neil Clinic, calls glaucoma the silent blinder. He says the majority of people don't know they have glaucoma because, in most cases, it doesn't cause pain or discomfort.
Glaucoma is an elevation in the pressure of the eye that, over time, damages the optic nerve. Marefat says, as that damage occurs, it threatens peripheral vision first, which often goes unnoticed. By the time the impairment creeps into the front field of vision, it may be too late to stop the progression.
Early diagnosis is key to saving vision. The best way to do that is with an annual dilated eye exam so an eye care professional can spot any changes in your optic nerve. Marefat says glaucoma tends to be a trend over time of looking at how the eye behaves that makes the diagnosis.
Glaucoma can be treated with medications to lower the pressure, stopping the progression and saving eyesight.
People who are of African American, Hispanic, Mediterranean or Middle Eastern descent are at higher risk of glaucoma. There might also be some genetic and hereditary factors.
Marefat says annual dilated eye exams should start at least by the age of 40, in your twenties if there are risk factors.