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Early Detection is Key to Slowing Progression of Glaucoma

01/09/2014   06:00:00 AM

Only half of Americans know they have the common, potentially blinding eye disease; having routine eye exams can help prevent glaucoma-related vision loss

SAN FRANCISCO  More than 2.7 million Americans aged 40 and over are affected by glaucoma, a leading cause of irreversible blindness, yet only half of those affected know they have the disease [1]. Often referred to as the "sneak thief of sight," glaucoma has no noticeable symptoms in its early stages, and vision loss progresses at such a gradual rate that people affected by the condition are often unaware of it until their sight has already been compromised. During Glaucoma Awareness Month in January, the American Academy of Ophthalmology advises the public that the best defense against developing glaucoma-related blindness is by having routine, comprehensive eye exams.

Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form of glaucoma, occurs when tissue in the eye gradually becomes less efficient at draining fluid. As this happens, eye pressure (called intraocular pressure), rises, causing irreparable damage to the optic nerve. Without proper treatment to halt the nerve damage, open-angle glaucoma patients usually lose peripheral vision first, and then they may eventually go blind. Fortunately, most vision loss from glaucoma can be prevented with early detection and medical intervention.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that all adults have a baseline, comprehensive dilated eye exam at least by age 40 – the time when early signs of disease and changes in vision may start to happen. The exam, which includes an eye pressure check, may also require a visual field examination – as determined by an ophthalmologist, a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions. For seniors age 65 and older, the Academy recommends having a comprehensive eye exam every 1-2 years, or as directed by an ophthalmologist.

Some people are at greater risk for developing glaucoma and may need to see their ophthalmologist on a more frequent basis, specifically for glaucoma testing; risk factors for glaucoma include:

  • Eye pressure level
  • Older age
  • Family history of glaucoma
  • African ancestry or Latino/Hispanic ethnicity
  • Thinner central cornea (the clear, front part of the eye covering the pupil and colored iris)
  • Low blood pressure
  • Type 2 diabetes mellitus
  • Myopia
  • Genetic mutations     

"Over the years, I've seen so many patients who had clear risk factors for glaucoma, but didn't know of their risks until it was too late," saidAndrew Iwach, M.D., glaucoma specialist and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. "It's truly a shame to think how different their lives would be if they had only known of these risks and taken action to have a comprehensive eye exam sooner. It's crucial that people remember that once vision is lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored."

Seniors who have not had a recent eye exam or for whom cost is a concern may qualify for EyeCare America,a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology that offers eye exams and care at no out-of-pocket cost for eligible seniors age 65 and older. Visit www.eyecareamerica.org to see if you are eligible.

To learn more information about glaucoma, visit the Academy's public education website at www.geteyesmart.org.

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The American Academy of Ophthalmology, headquartered in San Francisco, 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 has the education and training to 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 healthy vision. EyeSmart provides the most trusted 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. More than 90 percent of the care made available is provided at no out-of-pocket cost to the patients. EyeCare America is co-sponsored by the Knights Templar Eye Foundation Inc., with additional support provided by Alcon and Genentech. More information can be found at www.eyecareamerica.org.


[1] http://www.nei.nih.gov/nehep/programs
/glaucoma/materials/GlaucomaInfoGraphic.pdf

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