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Glaucoma does discriminate: Here's what you need to know to protect yourself

American Academy of Ophthalmology News Jan 16, 2020

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of vision loss, affecting about 3 million people in the United States. But this potentially blinding eye disease does not affect all people equally. During Glaucoma Awareness Month in January, the American Academy of Ophthalmology is urging people to be screened, especially if you are at increased risk of glaucoma.

Who is at risk?

  • African Americans are 6 to 8 times more likely to get glaucoma than white Americans. Blindness from glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African Americans than white Americans.
  • People with diabetes are 2 times more likely to get glaucoma than people without diabetes.
  • Hispanic Americans face an increased risk comparable to African Americans, but the disease may also progress faster as they age, compared with other ethnic groups.
  • Asians are at an increased risk for the less common types of glaucoma: angle-closure glaucoma and normal-tension glaucoma.
  • Also at risk are people over age 40, those who are severely nearsighted, and those who have a family history of glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damages the eye’s optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits visual information to the brain, allowing us to see. Because glaucoma often progresses slowly, affecting just peripheral or side vision, people with glaucoma can lose most of their vision before they even experience any symptoms. Central vision, the vision used to read, drive or watch TV, is unaffected until the disease is advanced.

“Just because you think you can see well, doesn’t mean all is well,” said Dianna Seldomridge, MD, clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology. “Once vision is lost to glaucoma, it can’t be regained. That’s why regular screening, especially among those at higher risk for glaucoma, is absolutely vital. When caught early, glaucoma can be treated with eyedrops or an in-office laser treatment. But in advanced cases, surgery may be required to slow the vision loss and prevent further damage.”

For more information about eye health and how to protect your eyes, visit the Academy’s EyeSmart website.

Some seniors may be eligible for glaucoma screening

For individuals age 65 or older who are concerned about their risk of eye disease, you may be eligible for a medical eye exam, often at no out-of-pocket cost, through the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s EyeCare America® program. For those at increased risk for glaucoma, they may qualify for a glaucoma exam through EyeCare America. This public service program matches volunteer ophthalmologists with eligible patients in need of eye care across the United States. To see if you or a loved one qualifies, visit EyeCare America to determine your eligibility.

Medicare provides an annual dilated eye exam for Medicare beneficiaries over age 65 at high risk for glaucoma. Those eligible for this service are people with diabetes, family history of glaucoma or African Americans over 50. To learn more, call 800-633-4227.

 

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