Both supermodel Christie Brinkley and Bono, the lead singer of U2, were diagnosed with glaucoma during a routine eye exam. Both were also surprised by the diagnosis since they weren’t experiencing problems with their vision. That’s the sinister nature of glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide: People with glaucoma can lose most of their vision before they experience symptoms. Once vision is lost, it cannot be regained. That’s why Eye Physicians and Surgeons of Milford, Connecticut and the American Academy of Ophthalmology are urging people to get regular eye screenings to protect their good vision.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damages the eye’s optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits visual information to the brain, allowing us to see. Because glaucoma often progresses slowly, affecting just peripheral or side vision, people with glaucoma can suffer significant vision loss before they notice a problem or a change in their vision. Central vision, the vision used to read, drive or watch TV, is usually unaffected until the disease is advanced.
The experience of both celebrities also serves as a reminder that glaucoma doesn’t have to mean blindness. If caught early, glaucoma can be treated with medicated eye drops or laser treatments.
“It may seem harmless to skip a routine eye exam if you don’t notice any vision changes, but glaucoma, as well as some other eye conditions, can cause vision loss without any warning signs,” said Dianna Seldomridge, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Even though ophthalmologists have several effective treatment options, the best protection against vision loss from glaucoma is an early diagnosis.”
Doctor Omar Faridi, MD agrees: “Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the United States and the world. The best prevention is your annual eye exam, especially if you have a family history of glaucoma. Just because you did not have glaucoma at 40, does not mean you can’t develop it later in life.”
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends all healthy adults get a comprehensive eye exam by age 40 to screen for blinding eye diseases. If eye disease runs in your family, you should see an ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Here’s who’s most at risk of a glaucoma diagnosis:
- African Americans are 6 to 8 times more likely to get glaucoma than white Americans. Blindness from glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than white Americans.
- People with diabetes are 2 times more likely to get glaucoma than people without diabetes.
- Hispanic Americans face an increased risk comparable to African Americans, but the disease may also progress faster as they age, compared with other ethnic groups.
- Asians are at an increased risk for the less common types of glaucoma: angle-closure glaucoma and normal-tension glaucoma.
- Also at risk are people over age 40, those who are severely nearsighted, and those who have a family history of glaucoma.
For more information about eye health and how to protect your eyes, visit the Academy’s EyeSmart website.