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Thursday, February 23, 2006

Glaucoma Takes Sight Without Warning

(ARA) - What has the power to steal your eyesight without warning, affects an estimated 4 million Americans and has no cure? Glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that presents no obvious symptoms in its victims in the early stages, but can eventually lead to total blindness. It is estimated that half of the people affected by glaucoma may not know they have it.

Glaucoma is often a very misunderstood disease. In spite of the lack of a cure, it responds well to treatment if detected early.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma causes damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain, creating the ability to see. With glaucoma, that nerve is damaged, causing irreversible vision loss.

There are typically no symptoms or early warning signs. Glaucoma is painless and causes gradual vision loss. Early on, glaucoma can cause a subtle loss of contrast between objects and their backgrounds. For example, not being able to distinguish the curb from the sidewalk.

How can I prevent glaucoma?

The truth is: Glaucoma isn’t preventable and cannot be cured. Nevertheless, it can be controlled in most patients. American Optometric Association (AOA) doctors of optometry urge Americans, especially those over the age of 60, to get an annual comprehensive eye exam. A doctor of optometry can not only evaluate the functional status of the eyes and visual system, but can also detect certain chronic and systemic diseases such as glaucoma and diabetes.

With a disease like glaucoma, where there are typically no early symptoms, an annual eye exam is essential in helping sustain your overall eye health. If diagnosed and treated early, glaucoma is manageable. A doctor of optometry can help patients maintain their quality of life.

Who is at risk for glaucoma?

Everyone is at risk for glaucoma, but certain groups run higher risks than others. These include:
  • African-Americans: Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African-Americans. It is six to eight times more common in African-Americans than in Caucasians.
  • People over 60: Glaucoma is much more common among older adults. People over the age of 60 are six times more likely to get glaucoma than those under 60.
  • Family members: The most common type of glaucoma, known as primary open angle glaucoma, is hereditary. If members of your immediate family have that type of glaucoma, you are at a much higher risk than the rest of the population. Family history increases a person’s risk of glaucoma by four to nine times.
  • Eye injury: Injury to the eye may cause secondary open angle glaucoma. This type of glaucoma can occur immediately after an injury or years later. Blunt injuries that bruise the eye (called blunt trauma) or injuries that penetrate the eye can damage the eye’s drainage system, leading to traumatic glaucoma. The most common cause of secondary open angle glaucoma is a sports-related injury such as baseball or boxing.
Other risk factors

In addition to the above groups of people and categories of risk and injury associated with glaucoma, other risk factors that make people more prone to the disease include:
  • High myopia (nearsightedness)
  • Diabetes
  • Hypertension
What can you do to reduce your risk?

The most helpful advice concerning glaucoma is to keep in mind the importance of early detection through annual eye examinations from your doctor of optometry.

Medicare patients at high risk for glaucoma can receive dilated eye examinations as a benefit of Medicare coverage. The 2006 Medicare Fee Schedule expands the definition of an eligible beneficiary under the glaucoma screening benefit to include Hispanic Americans age 65 and over effective Jan. 1, 2006. Currently eligible beneficiaries are individuals with diabetes mellitus, individuals with a family history of glaucoma and African-Americans age 50 and over. The AOA provides a Glaucoma/Diabetes Hotline program which matches patients with participating optometrists in their area. For more information about the AOA Glaucoma/Diabetes Hotline, please call (800) 262-3947.

Courtesy of ARA Content


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