What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a disease resulting in the optic nerve at the back of the eye being damaged due to an intolerance of the pressure inside the eye. Glaucoma can only be detected by an eye care professional as there are most commonly no symptoms for the patient during the early stages of the disease when it is critical to start treatment to limit or avoid blindness. Typical treatment involves the daily instillation of eye drops, frequent visits to an eye care practitioner combined with a visual field analysis
Glaucoma is a very misunderstood disease. Often, people don’t realize the severity or who is affected.
Four Key Facts About Glaucoma
1. Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness
Glaucoma can cause blindness if it is left untreated. And unfortunately approximately 10% of people with glaucoma who receive proper treatment still experience loss of vision.
2. There is no cure (yet) for glaucoma
Glaucoma is not curable, and vision lost cannot be regained. With medication and/or surgery, it is possible to halt further loss of vision. Since open-angle glaucoma is a chronic condition, it must be monitored for life. Diagnosis is the first step to preserving your vision.
3. Everyone is at risk for glaucoma
Everyone is at risk for glaucoma from babies to senior citizens. Older people are at a higher risk for glaucoma but babies can be born with glaucoma (approximately 1 out of every 10,000 babies born in the United States). Young adults can get glaucoma, too. African Americans in particular are susceptible at a younger age.
4. There may be no symptoms to warn you
With open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, there are virtually no symptoms. Usually, no pain is associated with increased eye pressure. Vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision. You may compensate for this unconsciously by turning your head to the side, and may not notice anything until significant vision is lost. The best way to protect your sight from glaucoma is to get tested. If you have glaucoma, treatment can begin immediately.
Some Statistics About Glaucoma
Sources are listed at the bottom of this page.
- It is estimated that over 3 million Americans have glaucoma but only half of those know they have it. (1)
- In the U.S., more than 120,000 are blind from glaucoma, accounting for 9% to 12% of all cases of blindness. (2)
- Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world, according to the World Health Organization.
- After cataracts, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African Americans. (1)
- Blindness from glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than Caucasians. (3)
- African Americans are 15 times more likely to be visually impaired from glaucoma than Caucasians. (4)
- The most common form, open-angle glaucoma, accounts for 19% of all blindness among African Americans compared to 6% in Caucasians. (5)
- Other high-risk groups include: people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted.
- Estimates put the total number of suspected cases of glaucoma at over 60 million worldwide. (6)
Public Awareness and Attitudes
A survey done for Glaucoma Research Foundation found that:
- 74% of over 1,000 people interviewed said they have their eyes examined at least every two years.
- 61% of those (less than half of all adult Americans) are receiving a dilated eye exam (the best and most effective way to detect glaucoma).
- 16% of African Americans were unfamiliar with glaucoma.
- 9% of Caucasians were unfamiliar with glaucoma.
A 2002 Prevent Blindness America Survey found that:
- Blindness ranked third (after cancer and heart disease) as people’s major fear.
- 20% of people knew that glaucoma was related to elevated pressure within the eye. Most of them mistakenly thought people could tell if they had glaucoma due to symptoms, or that it was easily cured, or that it did not lead to blindness.
- 50% had heard of glaucoma, but weren’t sure what it was.
- 30% had never heard of glaucoma.
- Glaucoma accounts for over 10 million visits to physicians each year. (7)
- In terms of Social Security benefits, lost income tax revenues, and health care expenditures, the cost to the U.S. government is estimated to be over $1.5 billion annually.(8)
There is one more statistic about glaucoma that we are aiming for: zero patients blind from glaucoma. As we work for the cure and increased education, we rely on an engaged and committed public and your generous financial support to help keep eliminate glaucoma blindness.
Sources: (1) The Eye Diseases Prevalence Research Group, Arch Ophthalmol. 2004; Prevent Blindness America; (2) National Institutes of Health; Quigley and Vitale, Invest Ophthalmol Vis Sci. 1997; (3) Javitt et al, Undertreatment of Glaucoma Among Black Americans. N Eng J Med 1991; (4) The Salisbury Eye Evaluation Study, Arch Ophthalmol 2000; (5) Racial differences in the cause-specific prevalence of blindness in east Baltimore. N Engl J Med. 1991; (6) Quigley and Broman “Number of people with glaucoma worldwide in 2010 and 2020”, 2006; (7) Center for Disease Control and Prevention/National Center for Health Statistics, 2010 & 1995; (8) NEI, Report of the Glaucoma Panel, Fall 1998