It really wasn’t the “in thing” at the time. I was having trouble seeing and hated sitting at the front of the classroom, but that was the only way I could see the chalkboard. My teacher spoke with my parents and before you knew it, the once cool 7th grade class president was converted in to “a nerd”- I had to start wearing glasses. I was not a happy camper, but I have to admit that seeing clearer was very rewarding. My sister helped me to pick out some cool specs and before you know it I was “cute” again. My jump shot improved and I could sit further back in the classroom and I of course regained my “cool” status. Our vision is a blessing and the gift of sight should never be taken lightly. That’s why routine eye examinations are a must for African Americans so that we can detect diseases like glaucoma.
Glaucoma, a leading cause of blindness in African Americans, is a major cause of loss vision. It is often referred to as a silent epidemic because in the earlier stages, there are really no signs or symptoms. As the disease progresses, peripheral vision begins to decline and those affected will report squinting or turning the head to focus; but there is no pain present in most cases. So let us jump right in and learn more about the diseases of the eye we call glaucoma and what can be done to treat and or prevent them.
Glaucoma is actually a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve, which is the bundle of nerve fibers that carries information from the eye to the brain helping us to see. This nerve can be damaged by increased pressure in the eye, which occurs in glaucoma. There are two main types of glaucoma: open angle glaucoma, which is the most common form (about 95%), and closed angle glaucoma. It is estimated that about 66 million people suffer from glaucoma worldwide; of those approximately, 7 million are suffering from blindness. In the United States, it is estimated that by the year 2020, 3 million Americans will have the disease. Currently in the U.S., glaucoma affects 2.2 million people age 40 and older, with one hundred and twenty thousand being blind. African Americans are affected 3 to 4 times more than Caucasians and experience blindness four times more frequently. African Americans between the ages of 45 and 64 are fifteen times more likely to become blind when compared to Caucasians. The reasons for this disparity is unknown, however knowing the risk factors for the disease and having routine eye examinations can significantly reduce the number of cases of blindness and give those affected an opportunity to receive adequate treatment.
The major risk factors for glaucoma include: being African American, age between 35 and 40, and having a family history of the disease. There are some other risk factors for glaucoma including diabetes, severe nearsightedness, previous eye injuries/trauma, and prolonged steroid use. The key is increasing our awareness of this devastating disease and stressing the importance of being tested. We should all know about famous R&B singer Ray Charles who at age 7 went blind as a result of glaucoma. Some of you may also be familiar with Kirby Puckett, former Minnesota Twins and National Baseball Hall of Famer who woke up at age 36 with no vision in his right eye. These eyes could have potentially been saved with early detection and treatment.