Because eye health care advocates, such as Prevent Blindness America, and The National Eye Institute are focusing on January’s National Glaucoma Awareness Month, we also suggest that there are many ways we must take care of our vision, beginning with a good eye exam. Not too long ago, I asked a friend to drive for me after I had my annual eye examination by my ophthalmologist, because my eyes would have to be dilated. My friend noted that she had never had hers dilated. Dilation is necessary to allow the ophthalmologist or optometrist to see inside the eye, checking for disease, glaucoma, macular degeneration, or any other future problem. Dilation is done with simple eye drops, and even though you may look like an owl for a few hours, and your vision is not perfect, there are reverse drops to help it wear off a little faster. It is good to have an annual vision checkup, but in general, the recommended frequency of comprehensive examination through dilated pupils without other symptoms or risk factors is:
- Ages 20-39, Every 3 to 5 years
- Ages 20-39, African American and Hispanics, Every 2 to 4 Years
- Ages 40-64, Every 2-4 Years
- Ages 65 and over, Every 1-2 Years
Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute during January’s National Glaucoma Awareness Month are striving to educate the public on what they can do to help save their vision. “Our key message is that, unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma. But the good news is that if detected and treated early, the effects of vision loss can be diminished,” said Hugh R. Parry, president and CEO of Prevent Blindness America.
Many of us may not be aware that an eye exam cannot only help to protect eyesight, it can uncover evidence of other diseases including diabetes or hypertension. And, for eye diseases such as glaucoma, the damaging effects may be detected through an eye exam before a patient notices any symptoms. In fact, patients in the early stages of glaucoma usually have no symptoms, no noticeable vision loss and no pain, which is why it is called the “sneak thief of sight.” By the time symptoms start to appear, some permanent damage to the eye has usually occurred.
According to the study “Vision Problems in the U.S.” by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute (NEI), there are nearly 2.3 million Americans ages 40 and older who have glaucoma. Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world and the leading cause of blindness in African American and Hispanic populations in America. Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes loss of sight by damaging a part of the eye called the optic nerve. This nerve sends information from the eyes to the brain. When the optic nerve is damaged, peripheral vision begins to diminish. If left untreated, over time, glaucoma may also damage central vision. Unfortunately, once vision is lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored. Vision loss can be lessened, however, if glaucoma is detected and treated early.
Here are many risk factors for glaucoma, including:
- Age: The older you are, the greater your risk. Those that are 40 and older are more likely to develop glaucoma.
- Race: As stated earlier, glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in African American and Hispanic populations in America.
- Family History: If you have a parent or sibling who has glaucoma, you are more likely to develop the disease.
- Diabetes: People with diabetes have a higher risk of developing glaucoma.
- Nearsightedness: People who are very nearsighted are at greater risk.
- Eye Injury or Surgery: Those who have had eye surgery or eye injuries may develop secondary glaucoma.
- Steroid Medication: Steroids, when used for extended periods of time, may increase the risk of glaucoma.
Prevent Blindness America offers a dedicated website for free information on glaucoma at preventblindness.org/glaucoma. Additional information may also be obtained in English or Spanish by calling (800) 331-2020. We thank Prevent Blindness America for this important message and want to add to Mr. Parry’s (President and CEO of PBA)wish to all for happiness and health in 2011, and that everyone will have a good eye examination. Take that hour or two to see an expert and protect your vision. It’s a good investment for all: you, your employer, and family. And, if you need protection for your eyes at work, keep those safety glasses or goggles on!