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On World Glaucoma Day, Do You Know Your Risks?

03/08/2010   09:00:00 AM

American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeSmart campaign and EyeCare America services help catch glaucoma early

SAN FRANCISCO—Glaucoma continues to be a major cause of blindness and vision loss both worldwide and in the United States, where an estimated 2.2 million people have the disease. During World Glaucoma Week 2010, the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeSmart™ campaign and EyeCare America Foundation remind Americans that knowing your risks for glaucoma can save your sight. People with the top risk factors for the disease need to be especially vigilant. A recent National Eye Institute (NEI) report found that fewer than 10 percent of Americans surveyed knew that glaucoma has no early warning signs, in most cases.

“Glaucoma’s silent onset is a key reason the disease so often damages people’s vision before they know they have it, and why eye exams are vital,” says Andrew Iwach, MD, spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (Academy) and glaucoma expert. “Ophthalmologists–Eye M.D.s–can detect the subtle, early signs of glaucoma and provide treatment that will help people keep their best possible vision.”

Top risk factors for glaucoma are:

  • age (65 years and older);
  • elevated eye pressure;
  • family history of glaucoma;
  • African, Asian or Latino ethnicity; and 
  • related health problems, including diabetes, low blood pressure, migraine headaches.

For people of any age with symptoms or risks for eye disease, such as glaucoma, the Academy recommends seeing an Eye M.D. to decide on eye exam intervals and other needed care. For adults with no signs or risk factors for eye disease, the Academy recommends a baseline screening at age 40—the time when the early stages of age-related eye disorders and vision changes may begin. Based on this screening information, the Eye M.D. will prescribe how often to return for follow-up exams.

NEI and other research show that timely treatment helps save people’s vision. Such studies also give ophthalmologists new data on improving patient care. For example, the Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study found that eye pressure-reducing medications lowered the risk of glaucoma by more than 50 percent in high-risk patients.

About Glaucoma
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. The most common form of the disease is primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG). Fluid builds up in the front chamber of the eye, and the optic nerve is damaged by the resulting increase in eye pressure.

If a person has POAG, the lack of obvious symptoms makes it nearly impossible for him to know he has the disease. Since POAG-related vision changes are so gradual and easily overlooked, regular eye exams are 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.

About EyeCare America’s Glaucoma EyeCare Program, a public service of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology: this program promotes early detection and treatment of glaucoma, 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 initial treatment, if 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

Broadcast Eds: Glaucoma B-roll footage is available from the Academy. 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 29,000 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.

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