RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. 

Put simply, glaucoma is a disease where eye pressure is too high, and the natural drain of the eye isn’t working properly.

“The fluid builds up and causes damage to the optic nerve leading to vision loss,” said Dr. Leon Herndon with Duke Eye Center.

About 3 million Americans have glaucoma, according to the CDC.

The disease has no early symptoms and is a leading cause of vision loss and blindness in the United States.

“Glaucoma’s been called the sneak thief of sight,” said Dr. Herndon.

That’s why doctors recommend a yearly dilated eye exam to stop the damage and protect vision.

“If you lose vision loss from glaucoma, that vision loss is irreversible. So, like many things, early detection is key, and the academy has recommended age 40 or greater, if you’re an African American or certainly even younger if there’s a family history of glaucoma,” Dr. Herndon said.

While a glaucoma diagnosis can be scary for people, Herndon says there are options.

“There’s so many different treatment options available, new options available that we didn’t have just five years ago,” said Dr. Herndon. “So, I would just recommend that patients check with their eye care provider and see what treatment option would be in their best interest.”