Glaucoma is a worldwide problem that can lead to blindness. It is especially problematic because there are often no symptoms in its early stages and although certain groups are at higher risk than others, everyone, at any age, is at risk. It is estimated that up to 50 percent of people with glaucoma don’t realize they have it. And currently, while there are effective treatments, there is no cure.
One way to help prevent vision loss from glaucoma is to make sure you get regular eye examinations. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical to preserving sight. In addition, if you or someone else in your family has glaucoma, it is important to talk with other family members and encourage them to get their eyes checked to make sure they don’t lose vision, because once they do, they can’t get it back.
The Importance of Heredity
Genetic studies have suggested that more than 50 percent of glaucoma is familial. It’s very strongly hereditary, especially among siblings; the rate of glaucoma can be 10 times higher among individuals with a sibling who has glaucoma. It’s likely that 15 percent of glaucoma patients have at least one sibling who has glaucoma, and that individual may be totally unaware of the disease. But remember — anyone who is a blood relative is at increased risk. That means that one of the most important things you can do is to talk about glaucoma with your family and encourage them to take steps to preserve their vision.
Make Sure Family Members Get Screened
When you share your health information with family members — letting them know you have glaucoma and that they may be at risk — you are potentially giving them the gift of sight. Family gatherings are a good opportunity, not only to spread the word, but to get valuable family health history information when multiple family members are present and can contribute to the family knowledge.
Get a Complete Eye Exam
Make a commitment to get a complete eye exam, including eye dilation, and reach out to your family members and encourage them to also get screened. With increased awareness of glaucoma, early diagnosis and intervention can help prevent vision loss.
Article by Constance O. Okeke, MD, MSCE