Glaucoma is a blinding eye disease that affects about 4 percent of the world population, and about half of all glaucoma cases remain undiagnosed. On the second annual World Glaucoma Day (March 12), leading eye experts across the globe urged everyone who is potentially at risk to learn about the disease and to use the resources available from the All Eyes on Glaucoma Campaign.
Glaucoma is called "the sneak thief of sight."
"After cataracts, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness around the world," says opthalmologist Richard Parrish. "There are about 60 million people around the world with glaucoma, most of whom don't even know that they have it."
Parrish explains that's because there are often no symptoms that the optic nerve, which connects the eye and the brain, is being damaged by the disease - until eyesight starts to fail.
That's where the All Eyes on Glaucoma campaign comes in. Parrish, of the University of Miami School of Medicine, is one of an army of eye experts working globally through this campaign to raise awareness about the disease, especially on World Glaucoma Day. He says the campaign highlights five specific steps to prevent glaucoma.
"First is, you really need a complete eye examination to determine whether glaucoma is present," he says. "Secondly, you need to know what your intraocular pressure is. You can't tell that without seeing an eye-care professional.
"The third point is, if you have glaucoma, you really need to take your medications as prescribed by your physician and return back to determine if your pressure is well controlled."
The fourth step, Parrish says, is to understand your risk factors.
"If you're of African ancestry, if you are of Asian ancestry, if your mother, father, brother or sister had glaucoma, then you are at a much higher risk. The fifth point is, if these risks are present, treatment can be initiated and, usually, glaucoma successfully treated and the loss of vision slowed or halted completely."
TV director and producer Joseph Lovett is also working with the All Eyes on Glaucoma campaign.
"I have glaucoma, and I was very fortunate in that I come from a family that always had us go to an ophthalmologist on a regular basis," he says.
"So my high [eye] pressure was noticed in my early 20s. I've been monitored very carefully and have been treated appropriately. That doesn't mean I haven't lost vision. I have lost some vision from glaucoma, but it probably would have been much, much worse had I not been treated."
To raise awareness about the disease, Lovett is sharing his own experience with glaucoma and producing a documentary about going blind.
"We have a Web site called goingblindmovie.com. It's a work in progress," Lovett explains. "What happened was that I got concerned about what happens if I do lose my vision. I started talking to people who have lost their vision, people I'd meet on the street.
"And the stories they told me were so inspiring, and I learned so much of a world that I knew nothing about and how to navigate through the world. I thought other people should know that."
Sharing information about dealing with glaucoma and the new research in this area gives hope for the future, says Parrish.
"The area of researching glaucoma is exploding. Attention has been directed to protecting the retinal ganglion cells [nerves which transmit visual information from the eye to the brain]," Parrish says. "There are several clinical trials been performed to try to prevent the high pressure from injuring those cells. There is also a great deal of interest now in the use of stem cells [and] regenerating the nerve fibers that connect the eye to the brain."
With a day filled with hundreds of events and activities around the globe, the All Eyes on Glaucoma campaign hopes to encourage people to think about their vision, and help them save their sight.