Glaucoma Can Affect Anyone at Any Age

This eye disease disproportionately affects African-Americans, young adults and seniors.

Posted: 02/01/2012 05:55 PM EST
Filed Under Health News, diabetes


When we think of glaucoma — an eye disease that can cause blindness — we often tend to think of it as an older person's problem. But health experts are finding that this disease is making an impact on a younger generation.

Glaucoma is a series of eye conditions that lead to damage to the optic nerve. This nerve carries visual information from the eye to the brain. In most cases, damage to the optic nerve is due to increased pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure).

There are four major types of glaucoma:

•    Open-angle (chronic) glaucoma: This is the most common type, tends to run in families and is painless and develops over time.
•    Angle-closure (acute) glaucoma: Very painful and is caused by a sudden blockage of fluid.
•    Congenital glaucoma: Mostly seen in babies.
•    Secondary glaucoma: Can be caused by certain medications, trauma and other eye issues.

Here's some important info to keep in mind:

•    Open-angle glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African-Americans. Half of those with glaucoma don't know they have it.
•    Glaucoma strikes earlier and progresses faster in African-Americans
•    The risk for glaucoma is 20 percent higher if glaucoma is in your family.
•    Compared to Caucasians, glaucoma is about six times more common in African-Americans, and blindness caused by glaucoma is roughly 16 times more likely in African-Americans.
•    Having diabetes, poor vision and taking certain steroids can increase your risk of developing glaucoma.

Detecting glaucoma early is important, and for many people there are no symptoms and when there are symptoms, it's in the late stage of the disease. Some symptoms include seeing halos around lights, vision loss, redness in the eye, hazy-looking eyes (especially in babies), nausea or vomiting, pain in the eye and tunnel vision. Once your glaucoma has been diagnosed, there are a range of treatments that can help and preserve your eye sight.  

And it's important to note that this isn't just your grandmother's disease. It's not rare to see glaucoma in African-Americans in their 20s and 30s. Experts recommend that every two years we get tested by a glaucoma expert.

It's unknown why open-angle glaucoma occurs, but over the years researchers have been trying to understand why it is more common among Black Americans. One theory is that we have more oxygen in our eyes than our white counterparts. Last summer, researchers from Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis looked at African-American patients who were receiving eye surgery and they found that we have significantly higher amounts of oxygen in our eyes. That can leads to elevated eye pressure, which in turn can damage the optic nerve and lead to blindness.

To learn more about glaucoma, go here.

BET Health News - We go beyond the music and entertainment world to bring you important medical information and health-related tips of special relevance to Blacks in the U.S. and around the world.

(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

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