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Minority Groups are at Greater Risk for Eye Disease and Blindness

04/05/2012   03:26:27 PM

EyeCare America Offers Free Eye Exams to Prevent Vision Loss in Underserved Communities

SAN FRANCISCOApril is National Minority Health Month and, as with many health concerns, minority populations are at a greater risk for eye disease and visual impairment. For example, glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness among African Americans and Hispanics in the U.S. Three times as many African Americans have glaucoma than Caucasians, and four times as many are blind.

EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, wants to improve access to care for underserved communities by offering free or no-out-of-pocket cost eye exams to qualifying individuals. Regular eye exams are imperative to detect and treat eye diseases and prevent serious vision loss. This is especially true for people age 65 and older who are at increased risk for age-related macular degeneration and cataracts.

"The first line of defense against eye disease is to get an eye exam and find out if there's a problem," said Richard P. Mills, MD, chairman of EyeCare America. "We want all Americans to get the eye care they need.  It is our goal to ensure that the cost of medical care never stops someone from getting an exam."

Minority groups are often at a higher risk for vision impairment and blindness due to higher rates of certain eye conditions.

  • Among African Americans, the leading causes of blindness are cataract and glaucoma.  African Americans are also at greater risk for diabetic retinopathy. 
  • Among Hispanics, glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness but goes undetected in 82 percent of cases. Hispanics are also at greater risk for cataract and diabetic retinopathy.
  • Asian Americans are at increased risk for glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that people in these high risk groups make an appointment to see their ophthalmologist in order to determine how frequently their eyes should be examined. Their Eye M.D. will make this decision based on the individual's ethnic background, family history of eye disease and other lifestyle factors including smoking and obesity.

After age 65, it is recommended to have a complete eye exam with an ophthalmologist every one to two years to check for age-related eye diseases such as age-related macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, cataract and other eye conditions.

EyeCare America matches eligible individuals with an ophthalmologist in their area who will provide a comprehensive medical eye examination or glaucoma exam for qualifying patients. In some cases, patients can receive up to one year of treatment at no out-of-pocket cost. To see if you or a loved one is eligible, visit the online referral center at www.eyecareamerica.org.

EyeCare America is co-sponsored by the Knights Templar Eye Foundation, Inc, with additional support from Alcon.

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 32,000 members worldwide.  Eye health care is provided by the three "O's" - ophthalmologists, optometrists, and opticians. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases, infections and injuries, and perform eye surgery. For more information, visit www.aao.org. The Academy's EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve their healthy vision, by providing the most trustworthy and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. Visit www.geteyesmart.org to learn more.     

About EyeCare America
Established in 1985, EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, is committed to the preservation of sight, accomplishing its mission through public service and education. EyeCare America provides year-round eye care services to medically underserved seniors and those at increased risk for eye disease through its corps of nearly 7,000 volunteer ophthalmologists dedicated to serving their communities. More than 90 percent of the care made available is provided at no out-of-pocket cost to the patients. Since its inception, EyeCare America has helped more than 1.7 million people.  More information can be found at: www.eyecareamerica.org.

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