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Ophthalmologists Warn that Serious, Blinding Eye Diseases May Show No Early Symptoms

05/08/2012   08:00:00 AM

During Healthy Vision Month, the American Academy of Ophthalmology and EyeCare America urge early detection through dilated eye exams

SAN FRANCISCO—The American Academy of Ophthalmology and EyeCare America, a public-service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, urge all Americans to make regular dilated eye exams a part of their health routine during Healthy Vision Month. Observed each year during the month of May, Healthy Vision Month is an annual campaign to educate the public about ways to make their healthy vision last a lifetime. In addition to routine eye exams, healthy habits – such as a nutritious diet, regular exercise, not smoking, and wearing sunglasses – can help prevent eye disease and vision loss. 

There are seldom any warning signs or symptoms during the early stages of serious eye diseases like glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy. However, it is in the early stages of disease that treatments can most effectively prevent blindness. The only way to catch many eye diseases early is through routine screening.

"Most Americans understand the importance of regular dental visits or cancer screenings, but often forget about their eye health until they notice a problem," said Stephanie Marioneaux, M.D., clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "Too often, this costs patients their vision. A dilated eye exam is the only way to catch eye disease early so that preventive measures can be taken to save sight."

Eye Exam 101
A comprehensive eye exam is a painless procedure that can detect potentially sight-robbing conditions such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and diabetic retinopathy, even before a patient experiences any symptoms. A comprehensive eye exam should cover the following: 

  • Medical history, assessed through questions about vision and family history.
  • Visual acuity, tested by reading a standardized eye chart.
  • Pupils, evaluated to determine how well they respond to light.
  • Eye movement, tested to ensure proper eye alignment and ocular muscle function.
  • Prescription for corrective lenses, evaluated to ensure proper vision correction.
  • Side vision, tested for possible vision loss and glaucoma risk.
  • Eye pressure, tested as a possible glaucoma symptom.
  • Front part of the eye, examined to reveal any cataracts, scars or scratches on your cornea.
  • Retina and optic nerve, assessed through a dilated eye exam using special eyedrops, which allows your Eye M.D. to thoroughly examine the back of the eye for signs of damage from disease.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that all Americans have a baseline eye exam with an ophthalmologist – an eye medical doctor or surgeon with the skill and experience to diagnose and treat the full range of eye diseases and disorders – no later than age 40.  At that time, the ophthalmologist will determine how frequently a patient needs follow-up exams, based on the individual patient's eye health needs. 

By age 65, the Academy recommends eye exams every one to two years, or as directed by an ophthalmologist. Many within this population may actually qualify for free or no out-of-pocket cost eye exams and treatment through EyeCare America, which ensures that qualifying Americans age 65 and older have access to the eye care they need. It is the largest public-service program in American medicine, having served more than 1.7 million patients since its inception in 1985.

EyeCare America is made possible through the generous support of the Knights Templar Foundation, Genentech and Alcon.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology and EyeCare America recognize Healthy Vision Month in May each year in partnership with the National Eye Institute, a division of the National Institutes of Health. As part of this national effort, the Academy will be celebrating EyeSmart Week (May 14-20) to further promote the importance of dilated eye exams. To learn more about EyeSmart Week and how to keep eyes healthy, visit www.geteyesmart.org

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 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.

About EyeSmart
The American Academy of Ophthalmology's EyeSmart® program educates the public about the importance of eye health and empowers them to preserve their healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most trustworthy and medically accurate information about eye diseases, conditions and injuries. OjosSanos™ is the Spanish-language version of the program. Visit www.geteyesmart.org or www.ojossanos.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.More information can be found at: www.eyecareamerica.org.

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