I went skiing this past weekend with a friend of mine, Terry Giove, who volunteers her time to teach people with disabilities how to ski. For 29 years she has volunteered with New England Disabled Sports (www.nedisabledsports.org/) at Loon Mountain Resort in Lincoln, New Hampshire. This weekend she taught a blind man to ski down the mountain. I don’t know about you, but if I lost my sight, skiing would not be at the top of my list of things to do. Those of us that can see, be it natural or by glasses, often take that sense for granted. It’s how we get around in this world. Unfortunately, as we age, our eyesight can deteriorate.
January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. According to the World Health Organization, Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. A Prevent Blindness Survey found that blindness is the third ranked fear of people after cancer and heart disease.
According to the American Foundation for the blind, 6.5 million people over the age of 65 have a severe visual impairment today and experts expect that figure to double by 2030.
Glaucoma, though most common in older people, can cause sight damage at any age. It is a complicated disease that causes damage to the optic nerve. This damage leads to progressive, irreversible vision loss. Glaucoma develops slowly and typically without any early warning signs or without noticeable sight loss for many years.
Early detection is key to helping keep loss of sight and blindness at bay if you do have glaucoma. Existing treatments can slow the process so no meaningful vision loss occurs in one’s lifetime. If you are at risk of glaucoma you should get your eyes tested, with a full dilation test, every one or two years. The following are groups at higher risk for developing glaucoma:
African Americans – glaucoma is six to eight times more common in African Americans than Caucasians.
People over 60 – glaucoma is much more common in people age 60 and over. You are six times more likely to get glaucoma if you are 60 or over.
Hispanics in older age groups – recent studies show that Hispanic populations get glaucoma at a greater rate than those of European ancestry, and that risk increases if you are over 60.
Family members with glaucoma – the most common type of glaucoma, primary open angle glaucoma, is hereditary. If members of your immediate family have glaucoma, your risk is much greater. Family history increases risk four to six times.
Steroid users – some evidence links use of steroids to glaucoma. A study of the Journal of American Medical Association demonstrated a 40% increase in the number of ocular hypertension and open-angle glaucoma in adults who use 14-35 puffs of steroid inhaler to control asthma (this is a high dose and only required with severe asthma).
Eye injury – an injury to the eye can cause secondary open-angle glaucoma. This type of glaucoma can occur immediately after the injury or years later.
If you have the following symptoms, you may want to call your doctor:
- Seeing halos around lights
- Vision loss
- Redness in the eyes
- Eyes that look hazy
- Eye pain
- Narrowed vision (tunnel vision)
If you notice a change in your eyesight, give your doctor a call. Further vision loss due to glaucoma can be stalled, but there is no cure for glaucoma as of yet. It is difficult to deal with vision loss and it is not always preventable. Thankfully there are organizations like New England Disabled Sports that can help people live active lives despite loss of vision or other disabilities.