Important note: AACHAC is in the process of updating this health information. Please check back with us soon for the latest information. (6/13/2014)
What is Glaucoma?
Three million Americans—including 1 million African Americans—have glaucoma, but half don’t know it because it develops without any pain. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African Americans. Glaucoma develops at an earlier age and can be more resistant to treatment in African Americans than in Caucasians.
The reason for the higher rate of glaucoma and subsequent blindness among African Americans is still uncertain. It may include a greater susceptibility to optic nerve damage, a higher prevalence of elevated pressure within the eyeball at a younger age, and less use of resources to detect and treat glaucoma.
Tragically, there are usually no warning signs of glaucoma. That is why glaucoma examinations are so important. Be sure to have your eyes examined in a place that does glaucoma testing, including a comprehensive dilated eye exam. The painless tests used to detect glaucoma may not be a part of many routine eye exams for new glasses. These tests may include a pressure measurement of the eye, a visual field test, which checks for loss of side vision, and a dilated examination of the optic nerve.
Glaucoma damages the optic nerve at the back of the eye. It generally starts with the loss of side vision. Once side vision is gone, the disease is usually advanced and can progress to total blindness.
Getting regular, comprehensive eye examinations is the best defense against glaucoma, which can be treated successfully if diagnosed early.
Risk Factors for Glaucoma
- Being African American
- Being related to someone with glaucoma
- Over 35 years old
- Very nearsighted
- Have had eye surgery or eye injuries
- Taking steroid medication
What to Do
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that African Americans ages 20-39 with no glaucoma symptoms have a comprehensive eye exam every three to five years. African Americans over 40 should have their eyes examined through dilated pupils at least every two years. Free screenings are available for those who are uninsured or can’t afford the tests.