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Glaucoma is an eye disease that affects almost three million Americans and 60 million people worldwide. The disease causes degeneration of the optic nerve and is caused by increased ocular pressure and lack of proper ocular drainage. While the disease is debilitating, regular trips to the eye doctor can recognize the onset of the disease, and early detection is often a defining factor in helping ease the effects. So, how do you know if you are at risk? Here are a few factors that can let you know if you are at risk for glaucoma.


eyeImage via Flickr by Bernardo Chaves

Not all cases of glaucoma are a result of heredity. However, one of the two types of glaucoma, called open-angle glaucoma, is hereditary. In fact, families with a history of open-angle glaucoma are four to nine times more likely to develop the disease than people without any past familial instances. Make sure to check your family history to ensure you aren't at risk.


Although causes are unknown, American minorities tend to develop glaucoma more readily than Caucasians. Asians are more apt to develop other types of glaucoma, such as angle-closure or normal tension glaucoma, than any other race. However, modern techniques, such as the GDX instrument, allow doctors to test the optic nerve to prevent glaucoma before it happens.


Some other medical conditions increase the risk for glaucoma. For those with diabetes or high or low blood pressure, glaucoma is definitely a concern. Therefore, it becomes important for those with these conditions to have, at minimum, a yearly exam. This isn't to say the risk is high, but you're always better safe than sorry. Finding that you have glaucoma at a late stage puts you at a huge risk for slight or total vision loss.


While there are cases of glaucoma in young adults, this is a rarity. Most instances involve those over the age of 40 and you are six times more likely to develop the disease after age 60. This risk factor increases especially in African-Americans, Hispanics, and Asians.


Having prior eye injuries puts you at a far greater risk for glaucoma. Blunt trauma to the eye or penetration of the eye by a sharp object heals over time, but it opens the door for the weakening of the optic nerve. Thin corneas and eye inflammation also increase risk of glaucoma. While eye surgery often helps alleviate pain or trauma from these conditions, glaucoma is greater in those that undergo procedures.


Whether it's legal or illegal, steroid use is linked to an increased risk of glaucoma. The most common form of steroid use that leads to glaucoma is prescription eye drops. To diminish this, consider using over-the-counter eye drops to lessen dry eye, rather than prescription alternatives. While the disease effects less than one percent of Americans, the effects of the disease are permanent and lead to blindness. As a result, it's important to get checked regularly. The eye exam is painless and is the defining factor between blindness and maintaining your eyesight well into later life.

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