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As we recognize January as Glaucoma Awareness Month, it’s important to note that glaucoma, which affects more than 2.7 million people in the U.S. over 40, is growing.

According to the National Eye Institute, by 2030, more than 4.2 million people are projected to have glaucoma, a 58 percent increase. The Glaucoma Research Foundation reports that glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world.

Since the onset of glaucoma poses no symptoms it is often referred to as the “sneak thief of sight.” Once vision is lost, it’s permanent. A person affected by glaucoma can lose up to 40 percent of their vision without noticing.

Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that combine to rob sight. The most common groups affected by glaucoma are the middle aged and the elderly, primarily African-Americans and Hispanics. Among African-Americans, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness. Also, siblings of people with glaucoma have a much higher risk of getting glaucoma.

Vision loss through glaucoma is caused by optic nerve damage. The optic nerve functions similar to an electric cable with more than a million wires and its main function is to send images from the eye to the brain.

Glaucoma comes in two forms: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and angle-closure glaucoma. An increase in intraocular pressure (IOP) or pressure inside the eye could be the beginning of glaucoma. Sometimes normal tension glaucoma can be caused despite a normal IOP. In secondary glaucoma, optic pressure damage can be caused when another disease causes or contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in vision loss.

Vision loss from glaucoma can begin with peripheral or side vision. While vision loss can come with little warning, the best way to detect glaucoma is through a comprehensive eye exam to begin treatment immediately.

Jean Kalscheur, Education and Vision Services Director at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired, provides tips for using your remaining central vision if you have glaucoma.

“Find and use a good ‘task’ light. Bring the light down so it is 8-10 inches from the task you are trying to do. Use a ‘bright white’ bulb to eliminate the yellow effect of a ‘soft white’ bulb,” Kalscheur said. “Reduce shadows by placing the light to the side of your non-dominant hand. When the light is on the side of your dominant hand, that hand will cast a shadow on the task. Consider adding contrast when you can. For example, use bright or fluorescent duct or electrical tape to mark items that are often ‘lost’ such as your key ring, your favorite paring knife in the silverware drawer or your deodorant container in a bathroom shared with others. When scanning to find the items, the color may draw your attention.

“Be careful with magnification. Too much magnification is not helpful, especially when your field of view is small. A low vision evaluation may help to suggest appropriate aids. A vision rehabilitation specialist might have ideas for lighting, contrast, and using magnification in the context of your activities,” adds Kalscheur.

Low vision evaluations are available at the Wisconsin Council of the Blind & Visually Impaired office and are conducted by Low Vision Therapist, Amy Wurf. To book your appointment or to learn more about the low vision evaluation, contact the Council toll-free at 1-800-783-5213. 

To learn more about glaucoma and research to find a cure, go to: www.glaucoma.org.