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January is Glaucoma Awareness Month

According to WebMD, glaucoma, the increased pressure called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve, which transmits images to your brain. If the damage continues, glaucoma can lead to permanent vision loss. Without treatment, glaucoma can cause total permanent blindness within a few years.

The overall national rate is 1.9 percent for the U.S. population age 40 and older, indicating that more than 2.7 million older Americans have primary open-angle glaucoma.

On Saipan, the Hardt Eye Clinic states that 61 percent of glaucoma and cataract patients occur in women. Studies show there is a gender gap in eye disease. Women are more likely than men to suffer from sight-threatening conditions such as age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, and glaucoma.

Here are a couple of things to keep in mind this January:

1. Get a comprehensive medical eye exam at age 40. Early signs of disease or changes in vision may begin at this age. An exam by one of Marianas Eye Institute’s specialists is an opportunity to carefully examine the eye for diseases and conditions that may have no symptoms in the early stages.

2. Know your family history. Certain eye diseases can be inherited. If you have a close relative with macular degeneration, you have a 50-percent chance of developing this condition. A family history of glaucoma increases your glaucoma risk by four to nine times. Talk to family members about their eye conditions. It can help you and your eye specialist evaluate your risk.

3. Eat healthy food. A diet low in fat and rich in fruits, vegetables, and whole grains benefits the entire body, including the eyes. Eye-healthy food choices include citrus fruits, vegetable oils, nuts, whole grains, dark green leafy vegetables and coldwater fish.

4. Stop smoking. Smoking increases the risk for eye diseases such as cataract and age-related macular degeneration. Smoking also raises the risk for cardiovascular diseases, which can indirectly influence your eye health. Tobacco smoke, including secondhand smoke, also worsens dry eye.

5. Wear sunglasses. Exposure to ultraviolet UV light raises the risk of eye diseases, including cataract, fleshy growths on the eye, and cancer. Always wear sunglasses with 100 percent UV protection and a hat while enjoying time outdoors.

“Eye exams aren’t only about checking a person’s visual acuity or sharpness, but also determining the overall health of their eyes,” said Rebecca J. Taylor, M.D., clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “We encourage women as well as men to get regular eye care. By making vision a priority today, we can help protect our sight as we age.”

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Join with the NEI’s National Eye Health Education Program and encourage people at higher risk for glaucoma to make a resolution for healthy vision this New Year!

For further inquiries into glaucoma and or any other disability, call NMPASI at 235-7273/4, 235-7275 for TTY or Fax and online at You can also visit online at: .

Thomas M. Thornburgh is a projects specialist at the Northern Marianas Protection & Advocacy Systems Inc.