James Hurst will quickly tell you getting screened for glaucoma and knowing his family’s history saved his eyesight. On Hurst’s mother’s side, eight family members have had glaucoma while his grandfather unfortunately lost his sight.
“With this kind of history in my family I was aware when the optometrist did the test that I needed to get the screening and get treatment,” said Hurst, 64. “I also understood the implications of not having my glaucoma treated.”
The implication of glaucoma, which is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning are many though most seriously of course is blindness. Experts estimate that half of the people affected by glaucoma may not know they have it.
“Unfortunately for most patients there are no symptoms,” said ophthalmologist Dr. Louis B. Cantor, director of glaucoma services at the IU School of Medicine. “There (are) types of glaucoma that have acute attacks where you get headaches and blurred vision, but that’s rare.”
What glaucoma does, says Cantor, is it damages the optic nerve in the back of the eye and that optic nerve “is the main telephone cable that gets all the messages.” It was once thought that high pressure within the eye was the main cause of optic nerve damage but now researchers know that other factors must also be involved because even people with normal levels of pressure can experience vision loss from glaucoma.
“People need to know what glaucoma is and what it does,” said Hurst who is also the associate director of the Indiana Council of Community Mental Health Centers. “It’s treatable but if left untreated it is very damaging.”
For African-Americans, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness. It is also six to eight times more common in Blacks than whites.
“Nobody really knows why African-Americans are at risk,” said Cantor. “What is known is that they are at more of a risk for developing glaucoma and when it is diagnosed it tends to be more advanced.”
African-Americans, Cantor says, should be getting screened for glaucoma at least every two to three years, especially after the age of 40.
Other groups at risk include people over the age of 60, persons with a family history, Hispanics over the age of 60; steroid users and those who suffer eye injuries.