SUNDAY, July 11 (HealthDay News) -- The changing makeup of the U.S. population is expected to lead to an increase in cases of glaucoma, the leading cause of vision loss in the country, experts say.
A number of demographic and health trends have increased the number of Americans who fall into the major risk groups for glaucoma. These trends include:
And as more people become at risk, regular eye exams become increasingly important, eye experts say. Early detection of glaucoma is essential to preserving a person's sight, but eye exams are the only way to catch the disease before serious damage is done to vision.
"The big thing about glaucoma is that it doesn't have any signs or symptoms," said Dr. Mildred Olivier of the Midwest Glaucoma Center in Hoffman Estates, Ill., and a board member of Prevent Blindness America.
"By the time someone says, 'Gosh, I have a problem,' they are in the end stages of glaucoma," Olivier said. "It's already taken most of their sight away. That's why we call glaucoma 'the sneak thief of sight.'"
Glaucoma currently affects more than 4 million Americans, although only half have been diagnosed, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation. It's cited as the cause of 9 to 12 percent of all cases of blindness in the United States, with about 120,000 people blinded by the disease.
Glaucoma is most often caused by an increase in the normal fluid pressure inside the eye, according to the U.S. National Eye Institute. The added pressure damages the optic nerve, the bundle of more than a million nerve fibers that send signals from the eye to the brain. In most cases, people first notice that they have glaucoma when they begin to lose their peripheral vision. By then, it's too late to save much of their eyesigh
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