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Glacuoma Awareness Month: Set Your Sights On Good Eye Health

glaucomaawarenessmonth.jpgWhen we’re not feeling 100%, we can usually place the source of our discomfort: lack of energy from a night of low-quality sleep, a sore stomach because of something we ate, an achy knee from a day of overexertion. But there are times our wellness is being compromised without giving us any telltale signs.

January marks Glaucoma Awareness Month, a time to spread awareness about the incurable (yet preventable!) disease that’s accompanied with few, if any, discernible symptoms. Glaucoma starts with a buildup of fluid that increases the pressure in your eye and can cause damage to the optic nerve, the bundle of nerve fibers that transfers visual images to your brain. If left untreated, it will first affect the peripheral (side) vision and, as it accelerates, more noticeable vision loss will occur.

Lack of awareness and an absence of symptoms are preventing people from detecting it early. Three million people in the U.S. have glaucoma, but only half of them are aware of it. And, according to the National Eye Institute, anyone older than 60 is at an increased risk for developing it.

The only way to determine if you have glaucoma is by contacting an eye care professional and requesting a comprehensive dilated eye exam. During the appointment, an eye care professional will administer drops in your eyes to dilate the pupils and look for signs of glaucoma in the optic nerve. For the majority of those who get diagnosed, it can be treated with non-invasive techniques like a once-a-day eye drop that decreases eye pressure and protects the optic nerve.

Being proactive about your eye health can benefit your overall health. Make 2017 the year where you’re seeing your best by following these simple steps:

  • Even if you think your eyes are healthy, make eye exams as routine as your annual check-up. If you designate one month a year (say, January!) as your “eye appointment month,” it will help you remember it going forward.

  • If you’re between the ages of 55 to 64, you should get screened for glaucoma every one to two years. After the age of 65, it’s recommended to get tested every six to 12 months.

  • If you find that you don’t enjoy reading as much as you used to or get headaches after looking at a computer screen, your glasses or contact lens prescription could be outdated and it may be time for an upgrade.

  • While it won’t prevent glaucoma from worsening, eating a diet high in omega-3 fatty acids (like fish oil and flaxseed) and dark leafy greens can help you maintain your eye health.

  • Drinking caffeinated beverages may increase eye pressure, so try to keep your cup of joe to a minimum. Drink moderate amounts of non-caffeinated fluids frequently during the course of a day (a quart of liquid or more in a short period of time could temporarily increase your eye pressure).

  • Even when it’s (groan) 20 degrees outside, the sun’s rays are just as equally damaging to the eyes as they are in 70 degree weather. Keep your eyes safe all year long from harmful UV rays by finding the right sunglasses. It’s been said that bigger is better since it cuts down on UV entering the eye from the side.

The only thing coming between you and healthier eyes in the new year is a phone call or appointment away. Glaucoma can be managed if detected early and, with medical/surgical treatment, most people will not lose their sight. For additional information, make sure to meet with your eye doctor. For tips on finding an eye care professional and for information on financial assistance, visit www.nei.nih.gov/glaucoma or call NEI at 301.496.5248.