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Just the facts: Dispelling common myths about glaucoma

Glaucoma. It’s a sneaky disease that usually strikes without warning. More than three million people in the United States have it — but only half know they do. Left untreated, glaucoma can lead to progressive vision loss and irreversible blindness. While a diagnosis of glaucoma can be scary, much has been learned about the disease and how to manage it over the past two decades.

“Managing glaucoma starts with early detection and treatment, which is critical to preventing or slowing vision loss,” says Ruth D. Williams, MD, a glaucoma specialist at the Wheaton (IL) Eye Clinic and host of the Glaucoma Research Foundation’s upcoming Glaucoma Patient Summit. “Therefore, it’s important for people to understand all they can about this disease. Reducing fears and improving outcomes in glaucoma start with knowing the facts.”

Busting the myths about glaucoma

Approximately 90% of people with glaucoma have a form called open-angle glaucoma, which typically has no symptoms that serve as red flags. Open-angle glaucoma develops slowly and sometimes without noticeable sight loss for many years. Recognizing misconceptions about the disease can make you less vulnerable to it. Take a look at these top 5 myths about glaucoma, along with the straight facts.

1. Glaucoma is an “elderly person’s” disease

Though it is most prevalent in people over age 60, glaucoma strikes people of all ages — from infants to the elderly. In fact, about 1 in 10,000 babies are born with the disease. Additionally, African Americans are at higher risk of developing glaucoma at a younger age.

2. Good vision means you don’t have and cannot get glaucoma

Perhaps the scariest aspect of glaucoma is its lack of early warning signs, particularly with open-angle glaucoma, where vision change is often gradual and peripheral vision is affected first. Even if you have the best of vision, you still could have increased intraocular eye pressure or other glaucoma risk factors that are only detectable with annual eye exams.

3. Family history is the only risk factor

If no one in your family has glaucoma, it doesn’t necessarily mean you won’t develop the disease. While family history is one risk factor, there are many others. The bottom line is that anyone could develop glaucoma.

4. Glaucoma symptoms are consistent and easy to notice

Glaucoma is a group of blindness-causing diseases and has several forms, each with varying symptoms. The two most prevalent forms — open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma — do not show up in the same ways. As mentioned, open-angle glaucoma does not become noticeable until it has caused significant vision loss. On the other hand, angle-closure glaucoma is a much rarer form and has symptoms, such as headache, nausea and hazy vision, that develop very quickly.

5. Blindness is inevitable

The vast majority of people who are diagnosed with glaucoma when they are not yet blind never go blind. If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, you can increase your chances of maintaining sight and enjoying a full and healthy life by seeing your eye care professional regularly and following your prescribed treatment regimen.

Annual Summit brings patients together

To help patients diagnosed with glaucoma and their loved ones better understand the disease and the latest progress against it, the Glaucoma Research Foundation will host its second annual Glaucoma Patient Summit on Saturday, Nov. 7, 2020. This year’s gathering is a virtual event due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hosted by Dr. Williams, the event will highlight advances in treatment options and offer practical information to help patients understand and live with glaucoma. Speakers include leading glaucoma specialists, patients and caregivers. Tickets are available at www.glaucoma.org/patient.

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