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January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, and now is the time to schedule your yearly eye exam! Prevent Blindness America stresses the importance of regular eye exams to screen for glaucoma and, hopefully, prevent glaucoma from causing blindness. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness among Americans, with 2.7 million Americans currently suffering from it.

Glaucoma is caused when high pressure builds up in the eyes, due to fluid not flowing in and out of the eyes like normal. The alarming thing about glaucoma is that it damages your eyes subtly, little by little, and causes no pain, so it often goes undetected until your eyesight becomes bad enough that you notice vision problems. At that point, it is usually too late, and your eyesight is permanently damaged.

There is no cure for glaucoma, but with early diagnosis, through regular eye exams, your eye doctor can catch the early symptoms or notice the warning signs of glaucoma, and with treatment, the damage can be reduced. All Americans should have regular eye exams, but those at risk for glaucoma need to be especially diligent about having a yearly comprehensive eye exam.

Are you at risk? Here is a list, from Prevent Blindness America, of those who have the highest risk:

  • Age. If you are over the age of 40, you are more likely to develop glaucoma. The older you get, the higher your risk.
  • Race. African-Americans are at higher risk of getting glaucoma than others. Doctors recommend that African-Americans have yearly eye exams starting in their twenties (or sooner), in order to prevent glaucoma from going unnoticed.
  • Family history. If a member of your immediate family has glaucoma, you may be at risk.
  • Diabetes. If you have diabetes, you are more likely to develop glaucoma. Hispanic-Americans have a higher risk of getting diabetes, and this often leads to a greater risk of developing glaucoma.
  • Nearsightedness. If you are very nearsighted, you have a greater risk of developing glaucoma.
  • Eye injury or surgery. If you have had a severe eye injury or eye surgery in the past, this can increase your risk of developing glaucoma.

Often, people put off having an eye exam because of lack of insurance, money or time, but if one or more of these risk factors pertains to you, don’t skip your yearly exam. Let your eye doctor know if you are at risk of developing glaucoma or you have noticed any changes in your vision. Insist on a full eye exam, including a dilated eye exam. Be aware that your eye doctor may want you to wait a certain amount of time after your dilated eye exam before you drive, so you may need to arrange for someone to give you a ride home after your exam.

Harry R. Parry, President and CEO of Prevent Blindness America adds his advice: “Although there is currently no cure for glaucoma, the damaging effects can be reduced if diagnosed and treated early. Our vision should always be a top priority and the New Year is a great time for a resolution to make sure our eyes are healthy with a dilated eye exam!”

When was your last eye exam? Glaucoma can silently sneak up on you and steal your eyesight. Don’t let it sneak up on you. Get an eye exam every year!