Glaucoma sneaks up on seniors

Published 3:06 pm Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Dear Savvy Senior,

What are the risk factors for glaucoma? My 82-year-old father lost much of his vision from it about 10 years ago and my sister was recently diagnosed with it, and neither had a clue anything was wrong.


Sign up for our daily email newsletter

Get the latest news sent to your inbox

Dear Blindsided,

Its called the silent thief of sight for a reason. With no early warning signs or symptoms, most people that have glaucoma dont realize it until their vision begins to deteriorate. Heres what you should know.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can damage the optic nerve and cause vision loss and blindness if its not treated. This typically happens because the fluids in the eye dont drain properly, causing increased pressure in the eyeball. The two main types of glaucoma that affect most people are:&bsp;

Open-angle glaucoma: This is the most common form, accounting for around 80 percent of cases in the U.S. This type progresses very slowly when the eyes drainage canals become clogged over time, leading to blind spots in the peripheral vision, but by the time you notice it, the permanent damage is already done.Angle-closure glaucoma: Occurs when the drainage canal gets blocked, causing a rapid increase in eye pressure. Symptoms include nausea, blurred vision and severe pain. If you have these symptoms, get to an emergency room immediately. Are You At Risk?Its estimated that more than 4 million Americans today have glaucoma but only about half of them know that have it. Are you one of them? Here are the key factors that can increase your risks: Age: While anyone can get glaucoma, people over the age of 60 are six times more likely than those younger. Family history: Having a brother, sister or parent with glaucoma increases your risk of developing this disease by four to nine times. &bsp;Race: African-Americans are six to eight times more likely to get glaucoma than are Caucasians, and they are much more likely to experience permanent blindness as a result. Hispanic-Americans also have an increased risk of developing glaucoma earlier in life, and Asians also have a higher risk for developing angle-closure glaucoma. Health conditions: Diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, hypothyroidism, migraine headaches and even being nearsighted can increase your risk. Medications: Studies show that long-term use or high-doses of steroid drugs or cortisone can put you at a higher risk. &bsp;Injury: An injury or trauma to the eye can cause glaucoma even years after it happened. What to Do

Early detection is the key to guarding against glaucoma. So if youre age 45 and older and have any risk factors, you need to get a comprehensive eye examination every year or two. Or, if you notice some loss of peripheral vision, get to the eye doctor right away.

While theres currently no cure for glaucoma, most cases can easily be treated with prescription eye drops which can prevent further vision loss (it cannot restore vision already lost from glaucoma). If that doesnt work, your doctor may recommend oral medication, laser treatments, surgery or a combination of these methods.

Screening Help

If you have Medicare Part B, annual eye examinations are covered for those at high risk for glaucoma. Also check out the Glaucoma EyeCare program through EyeCare America (; 800-222-3937). This is a nationwide program that provides free or low-cost glaucoma eye exams and the initiation of treatment, if needed, and there are no income restrictions. &bsp;

Savvy Tip: To learn more, the Glaucoma Research Foundation offers comprehensive information on their Web site along with a variety of free educational booklets you can order. Visit or call 800-826-6693.

Send your senior questions to: Savvy Senior, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070, or visit Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of The Savvy Senior book.~ Savvy Senior written by Jim Miller