“Sneak thief of sight” may be more common in people with diabetes
American Academy of Ophthalmology urges public to take EyeCommitted pledge to support annual diabetic eye exams
SAN FRANCISCO–An estimated 3 million Americans have glaucoma, which can stealthily cause vision loss even before people realize they have the disease. People with diabetes face special risks from glaucoma. This January during Glaucoma Awareness Month, through its EyeSmart™ campaign, the American Academy of Ophthalmology in partnership with the American Glaucoma Society and the Glaucoma Research Foundation remind Americans that knowing your glaucoma risks can save your sight and that people with diabetes need to be extra-vigilant.
“Only about half of the people who now have glaucoma are aware that they do,” said James Heltzer, MD, a glaucoma specialist in Bethesda, Maryland, and an Academy clinical correspondent. “To end blindness from glaucoma, we need millions more Americans to become aware of this disease and get eye exams in time. It’s even more important for people with diabetes.”
Both diabetes and glaucoma are leading causes of blindness. In their early stages these diseases often have few symptoms, so damage may occur before people know they need treatment. Several large studies suggest that people with diabetes are more likely to develop glaucoma, and other data shows that glaucoma patients who are diabetic are more likely to suffer vision damage. If caught early, diabetes and glaucoma can usually be managed and vision can be saved.
Luis Quinones, a painting contractor, learned he had diabetes when he was 46, about 10 years ago. He visits his Eye M.D. (ophthalmologist) regularly so any vision problems he might develop can be dealt with right away. A few years ago his doctor found that both of Luis’ eyes had high intraocular pressure (IOP), a key sign of glaucoma. A laser procedure followed by eye drop medications successfully reduced his IOP until last year, when Luis noticed blurry vision in his right eye and had painful headaches for the first time in his life.
“We tried different eye drops, but my problems didn’t get better,” Luis said. “My doctor sent me to Dr. Heltzer, a glaucoma expert, and he put in a small tube to help with fluid drainage. Now I can see well again, and the headaches are gone. I use one kind of eye drop in the morning and another in the evening.” Dr. Heltzer explained that Luis has neovascular glaucoma, a condition seen most often in people with diabetes. Fortunately it can now be treated with drainage implants, lasers and medications called VEFG inhibitors, so it is no longer necessarily a blinding condition.
An annual dilated eye exam can help prevent vision loss from glaucoma and other eye diseases in people with diabetes. To promote awareness the Academy, along with partners the American Society of Retina Specialists, the Macula Society and the Retina Society, has launched EyeSmart EyeCommitted, a social media campaign to encourage people with diabetes to pledge to get an eye exam every year. The EyeCommitted campaign includes an interactive application that:
- Encourages taking the EyeCommitted pledge to have an annual diabetic eye exam;
- Allows users to share the pledge and campaign information with friends and family;
- Features important diabetic eye disease information and a new video that tells the compelling stories of two patients with diabetic retinopathy; and
- Allows users to post the application onto their preferred social media sites.
For each pledge, the Academy will commit $1 to its diabetic eye health education efforts.
Glaucoma damages the optic nerve that transmits images from the eye to the brain. As glaucoma worsens, cells also die in the retina—a special, light-sensitive area of the eye—which further reduces the optic nerve’s function. In the most common form of the disease, primary open-angle glaucoma, often a patient first notices that her peripheral vision is reduced, then that other areas of her visual field are blank. But in many people glaucoma-related vision changes are so gradual that they go unnoticed, which is why regular eye exams are so important. Symptoms of the less common but more immediately dangerous closed-angle glaucoma include blurred vision, severe eye pain and headache, rainbow-colored halos around lights, and nausea and vomiting. Anyone with these symptoms needs to be seen by an Eye M.D. right away.
EyeCare America is a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology. Its Glaucoma EyeCare Program promotes early detection and treatment of glaucoma. It also raises awareness of risk factors, provides free educational materials and facilitates access to a glaucoma eye examination. To find out if you are eligible for a free glaucoma eye exam, call the toll-free help line at 1-800-391-EYES (3937). The EyeCare America help line operates all day, every day, year-round.
The Glaucoma EyeCare Program is designed for people who:
- Are U.S. citizens or legal residents;
- Have not had an eye exam in 12 months or more; and
- Are at increased risk for glaucoma as determined by risk factors that include family history, race, and age.
*Those eligible for a referral through the glaucoma program receive an eye exam and the initiation of treatment, if deemed necessary. Uninsured patients will receive this care at no charge. Patients with insurance will be billed and are responsible for any co-payments and/or the cost of the eye examination. For more on EyeCare America visit www.eyecareamerica.org
More information on glaucoma and how to preserve vision, as well as how to access care, is on the Academy-sponsored web site www.geteyesmart.org. Information is also available from:
American Glaucoma Society
The mission of the American Glaucoma Society is to promote excellence in the care of patients with glaucoma and preserve or enhance vision by supporting glaucoma specialists and scientists through the advancement of education and research. www.glaucomaweb.org
The Glaucoma Research Foundation
Founded in 1978, the mission of the Glaucoma Research Foundation (GRF) is to prevent vision loss from glaucoma through investment in innovative research, education, and patient support – all directed toward the ultimate goal of finding a cure. To date, GRF has funded more than $48 million in grants and projects. GRF also provides education and support for those with glaucoma and their families and friends. www.glaucoma.org
Broadcast eds: Glaucoma B-roll footage is available from the Academy. Please contact the Academy’s media relations department for download information.
About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons—Eye M.D.s—with more than 27,000 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three “O’s” – opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases and injuries, and perform eye surgery. To find an Eye M.D. in your area, visit the Academy's Web site at www.aao.org.