WHAT IS GLAUCOMA?
The term ‘glaucoma’ covers several conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve. Why is it so important? The optic nerve carries the visual information captured by your eyes to your brain. If the optic nerve is damaged, it sends unreliable information to the brain that distorts (blurs) or limits your vision. Glaucoma is progressive and, if left undiagnosed or untreated, can lead to blindness.
HOW COMMON IS GLAUCOMA?
There are over 3 million glaucoma sufferers in the USA. That fact is cause for concern, but even more so is that only half the sufferers are aware of it (CDC and Glaucoma Research Foundation).
Untreated glaucoma is the third highest cause of blindness and accounts for blindness in over 120,000 Americans. That is 9%-12% of the legally blind population in the US (1.3.million.)
Glaucoma is a slowly progressive condition; in most cases, symptoms are not detected, only becoming apparent in later life (age 50-60 years.) As the population ages, i.e., the birth rate remains constant and life expectancy increases, epidemiologists predict that the prevalence of glaucoma will increase. The growth rate in the US is forecasted at 2.8%. By 2030, the number of cases (diagnosed and undiagnosed) could rise from today’s figure (about 3.6 million) to 4.6 million.
IF I HAVE GLAUCOMA, HOW WILL I KNOW?
You probably won’t. In its earlier stages, glaucoma shows no symptoms (asymptomatic). The disease develops slowly and is both progressive and irreversible.
The first symptom of the most common (97%) form of glaucoma (open-angle) is the gradual deterioration of your side (peripheral) vision and, later, your central vision.
The symptoms include severe headaches and eye pain in rare forms of glaucoma, e.g., acute-angle closure and normal-tension glaucoma. Sufferers may experience nausea, vomiting, and blurred vision.
Glaucoma commonly occurs in older adults (40+), but it can develop at any age. Elderly individuals are at the most significant risk of developing glaucoma. They traditionally blame their loss of vision on growing old. Vision loss from glaucoma is gradual and mostly painless. But it is progressive, and it is irreversible. Glaucoma is treatable. Glaucoma blindness is preventable.
GLAUCOMA IN CHILDREN
Glaucoma is rare in children, but parents should ensure infants are examined at least once before age five. Very young children (infants) cannot vocalize their symptoms. Parents should watch for the following signs
- Dull or cloudy eyes (eye)
- Increased blinking
- Tears without crying
Older children may complain of
- Blurred vision
- Near-sightedness (progressively growing worse)
- Recurring headaches
ACA-compliant health plans cover vision screening for children (to age 19yrs). If you detect these signs, contact your pediatrician. An initial screening may indicate the need for a more comprehensive exam.
I SUSPECT THAT ONE OF MY FAMILY OR I AM SUFFERING FROM
GLAUCOMA-WHAT SHOULD I DO?
The key to preventing vision loss due to glaucoma is timely diagnosis and treatment.
Medicare, Medicaid, and ACA-compliant health plans include vision screening for those most at risk for glaucoma. The purpose of regular screening and subsequent treatment is the early diagnosis and treatment for the condition. Treatment will not cure glaucoma; it’s merely controlled to help patients keep their independence.
GLAUCOMA IN CHILDREN
Glaucoma rarely occurs in children (I:100000)
Although glaucoma is more prevalent in later life, children’s eyes should be checked regularly by their pediatrician and screened at least once between the ages of 3-5 years.
These groups are considered at higher risk and should have regular dilated eye exams
- Every year- People with diabetes
- Every two years- People with a family history of glaucoma
- African Americans 40+
- All adults 60+
The ACA covers vision screening, but further treatment may contribute to your deductible and be subject to copays. Although the eye exam will be free as part of the ACA’s vision coverage, the cost-sharing specifics will vary depending on your plan choice. Some insurers include free eye exams and glasses for kids –it depends on the insurer and the plan, so consider this when choosing a plan.
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