In an effort to combat one of the main causes of blindness around the globe, the World Glaucoma Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Organization have announced the first annual World Glaucoma Day, to be observed on March 6, 2008. The day will be marked by awareness and educational events organized by glaucoma institutions and local patient support groups worldwide, as listed on www.wgday.net. As well as striking the residents of developing countries at alarming rates, glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States and the leading cause for African-Americans.
Known as "the sneak thief of sight," glaucoma is a disease characterized by gradual loss of vision resulting from death of the cells in the eye which transmits visual images through the optic nerve to the brain. As the optic nerve becomes increasingly damaged, permanent vision loss and blindness can occur. Early detection is the key to treating and halting the effects of glaucoma, but current worldwide estimates reveal that more than half of glaucoma sufferers do not even realize they have the disease.
"Because glaucoma strikes so silently and gradually, it is absolutely crucial to educate people about the value of early detection," said Robert Ritch, MD, professor and chief of glaucoma services at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, co-founder of the World Glaucoma Patient Association, and member of the World Glaucoma Day committee for the World Glaucoma Association. "For a disease that causes permanent blindness, it is truly unacceptable that so many people remain unaware of its impact and consequences. Individuals in our country need to be much more vigilant about glaucoma, especially if they fall into one of the higher risk groups."
Persons at high risk for glaucoma should have their eyes examined for the disease at least every two years by an eye care professional. In the United States, at risk groups include: people with a family history of glaucoma, African-Americans over the age of 40, people who are very nearsighted or farsighted, and all persons over the age of 60.
In the early stages of glaucoma, there may be no symptoms and vision can appear to be normal until a large amount has been lost. If undetected and untreated, glaucoma will gradually claim all peripheral vision and move on to cause total blindness. With early detection, glaucoma can be treated with eye drops to lower intraocular pressure. Other standard methods of treatment include laser and operative surgery. Treatment can usually halt the disease, but it cannot reverse the damage that has been done. Glaucoma can develop in one or both eyes.