Healthcare risk management is similar; you can make better decisions with the right information.
Not all glaucoma risk factors can be prevented. Some are due to age, family history, ethnicity, or other things out of your control. However, detecting glaucoma as early as possible can prevent significant damage.
Glaucoma—a group of diseases that damages the eye’s optic nerve—is a leading cause of vision loss and the leading cause of irreversible blindness. In 2020, more than three million people in the US were known to have glaucoma, and approximately 80 million people worldwide. In addition, in the US, it is estimated that half of the patients with glaucoma have not yet been diagnosed.
Because glaucoma often progresses slowly, people with glaucoma can lose most of their vision before they even experience symptoms. However, central vision, which allows us to read, drive or watch TV, is unaffected until the disease is advanced. So, although you can see well, it doesn’t mean you don’t have glaucoma.
While there is no cure for glaucoma yet, the key to preventing vision loss from glaucoma is early detection, diagnosis, and treatment.
Everyone is at risk for glaucoma, but certain groups and circumstances are associated with greater risk. In addition, there can be several contributing causes of glaucoma. Talk to your eye doctor about your chance of getting glaucoma, especially if you have one or more of these risk factors.
Glaucoma Risk Factors
Skipping Regular Eye Exams
Not getting regular comprehensive, eye-dilating eye exams is perhaps the most significant risk for glaucoma. Screening can detect it in its early stages, well before damage occurs. Check with your doctor about the best screening schedule for you. If you’re at higher risk of glaucoma, you’ll need more frequent screenings.
A Family History of Glaucoma
The most common type of glaucoma, primary open-angle glaucoma, is hereditary. Therefore, if your immediate family members have glaucoma, your risk for the condition is greatly increased.
Although anyone can have glaucoma at any age, one of the major risk factors of primary open-angle glaucoma is age. Your risk for glaucoma increases a little with each year of age. Many factors, including your age, race, and ethnicity, determine the best frequency for eye exams. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that everyone get a baseline eye screening at age 40, because early signs of eye disease and changes in vision may start to occur at this age.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness among African Americans and people of African descent. Glaucoma is six to eight times more common in African Americans than Caucasians. In addition to having a higher prevalence, the disease begins at an earlier average age among African Americans.
People of Asian descent are at an increased risk for two types of glaucoma less common in other ethnic groups: angle-closure glaucoma and normal-tension glaucoma. People of Japanese descent specifically have an increased risk for normal-tension glaucoma.
Hispanics in Older Age Groups
Hispanic Americans face an increased risk for glaucoma comparable to African Americans, but the disease may also progress faster as they age, compared with other ethnic groups.
Other Health Conditions
Several other medical conditions may also contribute to a risk of developing glaucoma. For example, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, and sickle cell anemia may increase your risk of getting glaucoma.
Research presented at the 2021 American Academy of Ophthalmology meeting provided further evidence that low blood pressure (BP) may also be associated with an increased risk of developing open-angle glaucoma (OAG).
The anatomy of your eye can also be a risk factor for glaucoma. For example, people with thinner corneas—the clear window to the eye—may have an increased risk of glaucoma. Your doctor may measure your corneas as part of a comprehensive eye exam.
Refractive Error (need for glasses or contacts)
Studies have shown that people with myopia (or nearsightedness) or farsightedness may also have an increased risk of glaucoma.
The extended use of corticosteroids (a type of anti-inflammatory drugs) may raise your risk of getting glaucoma, as the medication may increase intraocular pressure (IOP).
Eye injuries caused by blunt trauma or those that penetrate the eye can alter the eye’s drainage mechanism, leading to glaucoma—for example, sports-related injuries associated with baseball or boxing.
Why Risk It?
It’s impossible to prepare for the unknown. Even though you can’t control many things that put you at risk for glaucoma, awareness can ensure that your eyesight is better protected and blindness is averted. The value of regular, comprehensive eye exams cannot be overstated.
Glaucoma research continues to advance as scientists gain more knowledge about the condition. That means that there are more treatment options than ever before. In some cases, glaucoma can be treated with eye drops. The future holds great hope for treatments, including superior drug delivery methods, laser treatments, and less invasive surgical techniques. Techniques to diagnose glaucoma at an early stage, as well as identify worsening or uncontrolled glaucoma early, are evolving thanks to research as well, allowing more timely intervention and better preservation of sight.
You Can Help Us Find a Cure
Every contribution helps bring us closer to finding a cure for glaucoma. Whether you donate cash or stock, create a fundraising event, or even donate a vehicle or boat, your donation will give hope to those living with glaucoma and accelerate our research.
This article was reviewed for medical accuracy by Mark Werner, MD.
Posted on January 21, 2022
Mark Werner, MD
Dr. Mark Werner is an ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist caring for patients at Delray Eye Associates in Delray Beach, Florida.