What You Need to Know

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that can damage the optic nerve and ultimately result in blindness. About 3 million Americans are living with glaucoma.

Of the various types of glaucoma, open-angle glaucoma is the most common. Since this type often has no signs, about half of those with this condition have no idea they have glaucoma.

This article will highlight facts and statistics that can offer you a deeper understanding of glaucoma.

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What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is characterized by a rise in pressure in the eye that can damage the optic nerve, a nerve bundle that sends signals from the eye to the brain. The way the pressure rises in the eye depends on the type of glaucoma.

How Common Is Glaucoma?

In the United States, the prevalence for glaucoma is about 19 out of 1,000 people. This translates to about 22 out of every 1,000 females and 16 out of every 1,000 males.

Glaucoma by Ethnicity

Glaucoma disproportionately targets Black people in the United States, affecting approximately 34 out of every 1,000. It is the leading cause of blindness in this group.

Black people also tend to develop glaucoma earlier in life. Glaucoma affects a little more than 1 out of every 100 Black Americans (1.15%) between the ages of 40 and 49, while just 0.61% of White people and 0.39% of Hispanic people in this age group are impacted.

Hispanic Americans over age 60, however, are also more apt to develop glaucoma. Between age 65 and 70, glaucoma affects 2 out of 100 Hispanic people, but by age 80 or older, it jumps to 10 out of 100. Meanwhile, for White people in the 65 to 70 age group, this is just 2 out of 100 , and in the 80-plus group 7 per 100 are affected.

Glaucoma by Age and Gender

Glaucoma is one of those conditions you are more likely to develop with age. If you develop glaucoma before age 40, it may be referred to as early-onset glaucoma.

In 2017, approximately 13 out of every 1,000 adults over age 45 had glaucoma-related visual impairment. Those over 60 are 6 times more likely to develop glaucoma.

It tends to affect older individuals because of the other common health conditions people can develop as they age. Damage with glaucoma revolves around increased eye pressure. Other conditions among older adults, such as diabetes and high blood pressure (hypertension), can contribute to developing increased eye pressure.

Having diabetes doubles the likelihood that you will develop glaucoma.

Females are at increased risk of developing glaucoma compared to males. Women account for 61% of glaucoma cases. This may be related to the fact that women often live longer than men, and older age is a factor of increased prevalence.

Causes of Glaucoma and Risk Factors

Glaucoma comes in a variety of forms, which can be associated with different causes. These are the various forms of this condition:

  • Open-angle glaucoma: Increased pressure caused by problems in the eye’s drainage system that keeps fluid from properly flowing out.
  • Angle-closure glaucoma: This is caused by a sudden blockage of the eye’s drainage channels.
  • Congenital glaucoma: This is a form found in infants in which the eye’s drainage channels are not developed enough or did not develop correctly.
  • Normal-tension glaucoma: Damage to the optic nerve develops even though intraocular pressure is in the normal range.
  • Neovascular glaucoma: Damage to the blood vessels in the body from poorly controlled diabetes and other health problems appear to be at the root.
  • Uveitic glaucoma: This is linked to inflammatory and autoimmune diseases.

There is a variety of risk factors that make some people more likely to develop glaucoma than others. Such risk factors include:

  • Age: The risk of developing glaucoma goes up the older you are.
  • Genetics: If you have close family members such as a parent or sibling with glaucoma, you are more likely to develop it.
  • Thinner cornea: The lower your corneal thickness, the more likely you are to develop glaucoma.
  • Higher fluid pressure: The greater your fluid pressure, the more likely you are to get glaucoma.
  • Coexisting medical conditions: Having diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease raises the risk.
  • Corticosteroid use: Long-term use of corticosteroids raises the risk.

Black Americans are diagnosed with glaucoma 6 to 8 times more often than White Americans.

What Are the Mortality Rates for Glaucoma?

Glaucoma often affects older adults and can lead to vision loss. There has been speculation this could affect mortality (being subject to death). However, mortality rates are not increased for those diagnosed with glaucoma. Receiving a glaucoma diagnosis does not mean that you are at an increased risk of death.

Screening and Early Detection

While glaucoma screening is not recommended for everyone, some can benefit from this. You should consider having glaucoma screening if:

  • You have a strong family history of glaucoma.
  • You belong to a demographic with higher incidence of glaucoma at a younger age.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology also recommends that everyone get a baseline screening for glaucoma at age 40, with follow-up if they are at greater risk. Medicare and Medicaid cover glaucoma examinations for people with diabetes or a family history of glaucoma, Black people 50 and older, and Hispanic people 65 and older.

Healthcare providers who perform glaucoma examinations include ophthalmologists and optometrists. Common glaucoma screening tests include the following:

  • Eye pressure testing (tonometry): This commonly involves a small instrument that touches the numbed surface of the eye.
  • Dilated eye exam: Your pupil is widened so the healthcare provider can view the optic nerve.
  • Visual field testing: The healthcare provider will check whether your vision is intact or if there are blank areas where the visual field may be compromised.
  • Glaucoma imaging tests: The healthcare provider will take photographs of the optic nerve through a widened pupil to check for damage.
  • Pachymetry testing: The healthcare provider will painlessly measure your corneal thickness after numbing the eye.
  • Gonioscopy: The healthcare provider will examine the angle where fluid drains from the eye to ensure this is not blocked.

With a disease such as glaucoma, which often has no symptoms, screening is important since you can be losing sight and not know it is happening. It is estimated that only half of Americans with glaucoma have been diagnosed. More than 120,000 of those with glaucoma are blind from the condition.

Early detection is key to retaining sight. Once diagnosed, glaucoma can be treated with various types of prescription eye drops to reduce eye pressure and prevent further damage to the optic nerve. In some cases, glaucoma surgery may be needed.

Summary

There are currently about 3 million Americans living with glaucoma, a condition in which the optic nerve is gradually destroyed. In the United States, the highest incidence of glaucoma is in females vs. lazy and Black people vs. other races and ethnicities.

Glaucoma tends to occur in people over the age of 40, although it can occur in young children who may have been diagnosed at birth. This disease often has no symptoms, and it is estimated that half of people with it have not been diagnosed.