Risk of Blindness from Glaucoma Cut Almost in Half
by Diagnosis, Therapy
Caution that a significant proportion of devastating
eye disease sufferers still progress to blindness
View for glaucoma patient
Jan. 21, 2014 - The probability of blindness due to
the serious eye disease glaucoma has decreased by nearly half since
1980. The researchers speculate that advances in diagnosis and therapy
are likely causes for the decrease, but caution that a significant
proportion of patients still progress to blindness. The National Eye
Institute recommends that seniors age 60 and older have an eye exam at
least every two years.
A leading cause of irreversible blindness
worldwide, glaucoma affects more than 2.7 million individuals aged 40
and older in the United States and 60.5 million people globally.
Significant changes in diagnostic criteria, new therapies and tools as
well as improvements in glaucoma management techniques have benefited
individual patients; however their effect on the rates of visual
impairment on a population level has remained unclear.
This study, published this month in
Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology,
was conducted by a team based at the Mayo Clinic. It is the first to
assess long-term changes in the risk of progression to blindness and the
population incidence of glaucoma-related blindness.
By identifying epidemiologic trends in glaucoma,
the researchers hope to gain insight into best practices for the
distribution of health and medical resources, as well as management
approaches for entire populations.
The researchers reviewed every incident case (857
cases total) of open-angle glaucoma (OAG) - the most common form of
glaucoma - diagnosed from 1965 to 2009 in Olmsted County, Minn., one of
the few places in the world where long-term population-based studies are
They found that the 20-year probability and the
population incidence of blindness due to OAG in at least one eye had
decreased from 25.8 percent for subjects diagnosed between 1965 and 1980
to 13.5 percent for those diagnosed between 1981 and 2000.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the eye's optic
nerve. It is a leading cause of
blindness in the United States. It usually happens when the
fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rises, damaging the optic
nerve. Often there are no symptoms at first. Without treatment,
people with glaucoma will slowly lose their peripheral, or side
vision. They seem to be looking through a tunnel. Over time,
straight-ahead vision may decrease until no vision remains.
A comprehensive eye exam can tell if you have glaucoma. People
at risk should get eye exams at least every two years. They
African Americans over age 40
People over age 60, especially Mexican Americans
People with a family history of glaucoma
There is no cure, but glaucoma can usually be controlled. Early
treatment can help protect your eyes against vision loss.
Treatments usually include prescription eyedrops and/or surgery.
The population incidence of blindness within 10
years of diagnosis also decreased from 8.7 per 100,000 to 5.5 per
100,000 for those groups, respectively. Yet, 15 percent of the patients
diagnosed in the more recent timeframe still progressed to blindness.
"These results are extremely encouraging for both
those suffering from glaucoma and the doctors who care for them, and
suggest that the improvements in the diagnosis and treatment have played
a key role in improving outcomes," said Arthur J. Sit, M.D., associate
professor of ophthalmology at the Mayo Clinic College of Medicine and
lead researcher for the study.
"Despite this good news, the rate at which people
continue to go blind due to OAG is still unacceptably high. This is
likely due to late diagnosis and our incomplete understanding of
glaucoma, so it is critical that research into this devastating disease
continues, and all eye care providers be vigilant in looking for early
signs of glaucoma during routine exams."
The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends
that all adults receive a baseline eye exam by age 40, and for seniors
age 65 and older to have an eye exam every one to two years or as
directed by an ophthalmologist. For more information about glaucoma and
other eye conditions, visit
The American Academy of Ophthalmology,
headquartered in San Francisco, is the world's largest association of
eye physicians and surgeons--Eye M.D.s--with more than 32,000 members
worldwide. For more information, visit
Academy's EyeSmartฎ program educates the public about the importance of
eye health and empowers them to preserve healthy vision. EyeSmart
provides the most trusted and medically accurate information about eye
diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos is the Spanish-language
version of the program. Visit
to learn more.
Ophthalmology, the official journal of the
American Academy of Ophthalmology, publishes original, peer-reviewed,
clinically applicable research. Topics include the results of clinical
trials, new diagnostic and surgical techniques, treatment methods
technology assessments, translational science reviews and editorials.
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