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Approximately 2.7 million people in the United States have glaucoma, according to the National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP), and many of them experience partial or total vision loss. The Massachusetts Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) offers a number of resources for employers, residents with visual impairments, and others about glaucoma and vision impairment.

What Is Glaucoma?

Open-angle glaucoma, the most common type, is a chronic condition that progresses slowly. The fluid that normally leaves the chamber in the front of the eye passes too slowly, creating a buildup. This causes pressure inside the eye to rise, which is associated with damage to the optic nerve. No pain occurs as pressure increases, making this form of the disease particularly dangerous — affected individuals may not notice vision issues until permanent damage has happened. Other types of glaucoma may present with painful symptoms.

There is currently no cure for glaucoma, but with treatment, many people with the disease live full lives.

Diagnosis and Treatment

Early detection of glaucoma is the best way to prevent major vision loss. The condition can be diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam. It is important to have regular exams, particularly for people in high-risk categories including African Americans, those over the age of 60, and individuals with a family history of the disease. Once diagnosed, immediate treatments for early stage, open-angle glaucoma can slow the progression of the disease and prevent further deterioration of eyesight. These options include:

  • Medication — When glaucoma is diagnosed in its early stages, eye drops or pills can lower eye pressure.
  • Laser Trabeculoplasty — During this procedure, a laser is used to help drain fluid out of the eye. The laser burns the meshwork inside the eye, stretching the drainage holes and improving the flow of fluid.
  • Trabeculectomy — In some cases, the doctor will surgically remove a small piece of tissue to create a new channel for fluid to drain from the eye.

What Massachusetts Residents Can Do

HHS provides resources not only for people living with blindness and vision impairment, but also for their neighbors and employers:

Glaucoma may affect you or your family. Take action — find an eye care provider and get an exam. If you know someone with glaucoma in the Commonwealth, please share this information with them.

Have any questions about glaucoma? Comment below or tweet us at @MassGov.

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