January is Glaucoma Awareness Month
Approximately 2.7 million people over the age of 40 are affected by glaucoma and its symptoms daily. The National Eye Institute estimates that the number of individuals with glaucoma will increase by 58% to 4.2 million in the year 2030. As much as 40% of vision can be lost without a person noticing any significant change. Pharmacists can help to raise awareness of glaucoma in a number of ways. Currently, about 120,000 people in the United States have glaucoma. Glaucoma remains the leading cause of preventable blindness in the United States, accounting for 9-12% of all blindness cases. Pharmacists can talk to their patients about glaucoma, and suggest that they get an eye exam yearly. Eye examinations are crucial to early detection and intervention when a patient is diagnosed with glaucoma. Though no cure exists for glaucoma, medication and surgery can help to slow or prevent further loss of vision. Early diagnosis and detection is critical to slowing the progression of the disease.
Pharmacists play a crucial role in helping their customers to recognize symptoms of glaucoma and raising awareness of this disease among patients with critical need. Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among those of African-American descent, with Hispanic individuals and the elderly also at significant risk of contracting glaucoma. Those of Asian descent are also at high risk of contracting glaucoma, though their risk is less than that of African Americans. Patients who are diabetic or severely near-sighted also present a significant risk of glaucoma.
Siblings of persons with glaucoma are also at risk of contracting the disease. Obtaining regular eye exams helps patients to determine whether or not they have the disease, and if so its type and stage of progression. There are two forms of glaucoma, primary open angle (POAG) and angle closure glaucoma. These are marked by an increase of intraocular pressure inside the eye, and when optic nerve damage has occurred despite normal eye pressure–this is considered normal tension glaucoma. Secondary glaucoma refers to a case where another disease contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in optic nerve damage.
Pharmacists can print informational brochures to display at their checkout counters from Glaucoma.org. Because vision loss begins with peripheral vision, many patients that have contracted glaucoma will not notice until significant vision has been lost. Pharmacists can help to raise awareness of this disease by having conversations with patients in high-risk groups, obtaining literature to distribute to their communities, and helping to obtain a cure through continued awareness and treatment of this condition. Pharmacists can also visit the Glaucoma Research Foundation website, which provides useful information, printouts, and educational material for pharmacists to provide their customers and communities to help spread awareness of this disease.