Glaucoma can take sight without warning; eye exams key to early detection

| January 28, 2011 | 0 Comments

American Optometric Association
News Release

ST. LOUIS — Early detection and treatment is critical to maintain healthy vision and protect the eyes from the effects of potentially blinding diseases, such as glaucoma, according to the American Optometric Association.

Glaucoma begins by attacking peripheral vision, typically causing objects to appear less clearly. At first, squinting or turning the head may help people to focus better. These changes may seem minor, but glaucoma can accelerate quickly, causing eyesight to rapidly and irreversibly deteriorate.

Studies show that during the next 10 years, the number of Americans diagnosed with glaucoma will increase by more than one million; yet, Americans are still not doing as much as they should to help protect their vision.

Although glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S., awareness of the disease is relatively low. According to data from the AOA’s latest American consumer survey, less than a quarter of all Americans know glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve.

The survey also indicated six in 10 Americans incorrectly believe glaucoma is preventable. While the disease is not preventable, it’s treatable. Regular, comprehensive eye exams play a critical role in successful outcomes for patients.

The survey found 20 percent of adults who don’t wear glasses or contacts have never been to an eye doctor. However, the AOA recommends eye exams every two years for adults under age 60, and an exam every year thereafter. Eye doctors may recommend more frequent appointments based on an individual’s overall health, risk factors or family history.

“Those individuals who do not visit their eye doctor on a regular basis are putting their vision and quality of life at risk,” said Dr. Kerry Beebe, chair, Clinical and Practice Advancement Group Committee, AOA. “Glaucoma is often referred to as ‘the sneak thief of sight’ because it can strike without pain or other symptoms. Vision lost to glaucoma cannot be restored, so early detection and treatment is paramount.”

Americans also aren’t aware of factors that put them most at risk for developing glaucoma. Only 20 percent of those surveyed indicated knowing that race or ethnicity may increase their risk. According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, African-Americans ages 45-65 are 14-17 times more likely to go blind from glaucoma than Caucasians.

Other risk factors for glaucoma include people who have a family history of glaucoma, are older than 60 years old or have had severe eye trauma. Some studies suggest nearsightedness, cardiovascular disease and diabetes may also be risk factors for the development of glaucoma.

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. To learn more about glaucoma, talk with a health care provider. Other resources include www.cdc.gov/visionhealth, www.nei.nih.gov/health/glaucoma and www.hooah4health.com.

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