Glaucoma Stealing Sight!


January is Glaucoma Awareness Month
Don't Let Glaucoma Steal Your Sight!

Half of people with glaucoma don’t know they have it. Get a healthy start this year by learning about glaucoma and taking steps to reduce your risk of vision loss! 

Know the Facts About Glaucoma

  • Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can result in vision loss and even blindness.

  • About 3 million Americans have glaucoma. It is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.

  • Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, results in increased eye pressure. There are other types of glaucoma:  angle-closure, normal-tension, and congenital glaucoma. There are often no early symptoms, which is why 50% of people with glaucoma don’t know they have the disease.

  • There is no cure (yet) for glaucoma, but if it’s caught early, you can preserve your vision and prevent vision loss. Taking action to preserve your vision health is key.

Know Your Glaucoma Risk

Anyone can get glaucoma, but certain groups are at higher risk. These groups include African Americans over age 40, all people over age 60people with a family history of glaucoma, and people who have diabetes. African American people are 6 to 8 times more likely to get glaucoma than Caucasian people. People with diabetes are 2 times more likely to get glaucoma than people without diabetes.

Take Action to Prevent Vision Loss

There are many steps you can take to help protect your eyes and lower your risk of vision loss from glaucoma.

  • If you are in a high-risk group, get a comprehensive dilated eye exam to catch glaucoma early and start treatment. Prescription eye drops can stop glaucoma from progressing. Your eye care specialist will recommend how often to return for follow-up exams. Medicare covers a glaucoma test once a year for people in high-risk groups.

  • Even if you are not in a high-risk group, getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam by the age of 40 can help catch glaucoma and other eye diseases early.

  • Open-angle glaucoma does not have symptoms and is hereditary, so talk to your family members about their vision health to help protect your eyes—and theirs.

  • Maintaining a healthy weight, controlling your blood pressure, being physically active, and avoiding smoking will help you avoid vision loss from glaucoma. These healthy behaviors will also help prevent type 2 diabetes and other chronic conditions.

Manage and Treat Glaucoma

Vision loss from glaucoma usually affects peripheral vision (what you can see on the side of your head when looking ahead) first. Later, it will affect your central vision, which is needed for seeing objects clearly and for common daily tasks like reading and driving.  Glaucoma is treated with eye drops, oral medicine, or surgery (or a combination of treatments) to reduce pressure in the eye and prevent permanent vision loss. Take medicine as prescribed, and tell your eye care specialist about any side effects. You and your doctor are a team. If laser or surgical procedures are recommended to reduce the pressure in your eye, make sure to schedule regular follow-up visits to continue to monitor eye pressure.

A little more about Normal-tension glaucoma:

Also called low-tension or normal-pressure glaucoma, normal-tension glaucoma (NTG) is a condition in which the optic nerve is damaged without eye pressure exceeding the average range (usually between 12-21mm Hg). There is debate among glaucoma experts whether NTG is a separate entity from primary open angle glaucoma (POAG) or just another form of POAG. 

How is it Different? 

Whether or not NTG is a separate entity from POAG, there are a few features that appear to be more common in NTG than in POAG. Patients with NTG tend to have visual field abnormalities closer to the center of vision. Also, hemorrhages in the small blood vessels of the optic nerve tend to be more common in patients with NTG. NTG has been associated with migraines and low blood pressure. 

What Causes Normal-tension Glaucoma? 

It is believed that factors not related to eye pressure may play a larger role in NTG than in POAG. These factors include abnormalities in the blood flow to the optic nerve, and structural weakness of the optic nerve tissue. Researchers continue to examine why some optic nerves are damaged by relatively low eye pressure levels. 

How is it Diagnosed? 

NTG is diagnosed using the same tests as those used for POAG. In addition, your doctor may obtain several eye pressure measurements at different times of the day to be sure that the eye pressure is within the average range. In some cases, if the optic nerve appearance is not typical for glaucoma, your doctor may recommend imaging of the brain and the optic nerve to rule out other causes of optic nerve damage. 

How is Normal-tension Glaucoma Treated? 

Normal-tension glaucoma is treated in the same way as POAG by reducing the eye pressure using medications, laser treatment, and surgery. Blood flow to the optic nerve may play an important role in NTG but currently there is no treatment that can directly modify it. If high blood pressure is over-treated with medications, the optic nerve blood flow may be affected. Your eye doctor may suggest a discussion with your primary care doctor about adjusting your medications to maintain an optimal blood pressure.

**Learn More About Low Vision

Some people with glaucoma have low vision, which means they have a hard time doing routine activities even with the help of glasses or contacts. Go to the “Low vision resources for glaucoma” link at: for more information.

Beth Ewing, RN, MSN, CNM, WHNP-BC, LSIM Parish Nurse


Beth Ewing