January is a big month for shining a spotlight on two critical health issues: glaucoma and cervical health.
January has been named Glaucoma Awareness Month because glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the United States and is estimated to affect 3 million Americans. At least half of those do not know they have it because glaucoma usually has no symptoms until the disease has progressed to a late stage.
Glaucoma is an eye disease in which the internal pressure in the eyes increases enough to damage the nerve fibers in the optic nerve and cause vision loss. While damage from glaucoma cannot be reversed, early detection can result in treatment to minimize the effects of the disease.
Although the disease is most common in middle-aged and older people, glaucoma can affect people of any age. The good news is regular eye exams can help prevent unnecessary vision loss. If it’s been over a year since the last eye exam, it is important to schedule a comprehensive eye exam with your eye doctor.
Glaucoma awareness is important because there are almost no symptoms until significant permanent vision loss occurs. Regular eye exams are the first line of defense for early detection of glaucoma, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA). Certain risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing glaucoma include:
- Being over 45 years of age
- Being of African, Asian, or Hispanic descent
- Have diabetes, hypertension, or heart disease
- Nearsighted vision
- A family history of glaucoma
Because vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible, it’s important to get regular and complete eye exams. AOA recommends annual eye examinations (or more frequent exams if you are at high risk for glaucoma) to check for glaucoma and other eye conditions.
January is also Cervical Cancer Awareness Month
Over 13,000 women in the U.S. are diagnosed with cervical cancer each year, according to the National Cervical Cancer Coalition (NCCC). The disease is preventable, thanks to proper screening and vaccination.
Two important factors of cervical health are testing and vaccination. To get ahead of cervical cancer and other related diseases, it’s important to get regular screenings. The ACS recommends getting an HPV test, while the U.S. Preventative Task Force and the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommend 21-29 years old women to get a Pap test every three years. Women in the age group of 30-65 years should get the test every five years.
One of the biggest threats to cervical health in women is the human papillomavirus (HPV), which can lead to cancer. HPV is the most common sexually transmitted infection (STI) — 79 million Americans, women as well as men in their late teens and early 20s, are infected with HPV.
There are many different types of HPV. Anyone who is sexually active can get HPV, even if you have had sex with only one person. You also can develop symptoms years after you have sex with someone who is infected. This makes it hard to know when you first became infected. Some strains of the virus can cause health problems including genital warts and cancers.
Fortunately, there are vaccines that can stop these health problems from happening. The HPV vaccine is safe and effective and can protect against diseases (including cancers) caused by HPV when given in the recommended age groups. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends HPV vaccination at age 11 or 12 years (or can start at age 9 years) and for everyone through age 26 years, if not vaccinated already. For more information on the recommendations, please see: https://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/vpd/hpv/public/index.html.
Glaucoma, cervical cancer, and HPV are serious diseases if left untreated. Fortunately, there are effective treatments for them, but you must seek help from medical professionals. If you’d like to learn more or set up a screening appointment, contact the healthcare specialists here at Community Health Connections.