MONTGOMERY, Alabama– 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.
In observance of Glaucoma Awareness Month in January, the Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology, The Medical Association of Alabama, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology is urging people to be screened, especially those facing an 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 twice as 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 affects about 2 percent of all Americans over the age of 40, and that’s why it’s important to catch it early,” said Dr. Kirk Sturridge, a board certified ophthalmologist based in Dothan whose background includes specialized training in treating glaucoma patients. “For African-Americans, those with diabetes and people who are members of other at-risk groups, regular eye screenings are even more critical. Don’t let glaucoma rob you of your vision.
“Glaucoma is commonly referred to as the ‘silent thief of sight,’ because it’s usually such a slow, insidious process that you may be losing your vision and not even be aware of it,” Sturridge continued. “Do not have a false sense of security thinking you cannot have glaucoma just because your vision may be adequate for your needs or even 20/20. Glaucoma cannot be cured, but it is treatable and does not have to lead to blindness. That’s why early detection is key, so keep appointments with your eye doctor.”
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, M.D., 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. Here’s other tips:
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. EyeCare America is co-sponsored by the Knights Templar Eye Foundation Inc., with additional support provided by Alcon.
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.
About the AlabamaAcademy of Ophthalmology
The Alabama Academy of Ophthalmology is comprised of ophthalmologists who are licensed to practice medicine in Alabama and/or other states with the mission of promoting and advancing ophthalmic medicine in all phases. The Alabama Academy provides complimentary eyecare services to disadvantaged Alabamians through its non-profit Eye Care Alabama program. For more information, visit alabamaacademyofophthalmology.org.
About the Medical Association of Alabama
Founded more than 140 years ago, the Medical Association of the State of Alabama is the professional association for some 7,000 physicians of all specialties throughout Alabama. The association exists to serve, lead and unite physicians in promoting the highest quality of health care for the people of Alabama through advocacy, information and education.
About the American Academy of Ophthalmology
The Academy is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. A global community of 32,000 medical doctors, it protects sight and empowers lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for its patients and the public. The Academy innovates to advance the profession and to ensure the delivery of the highest-quality eye care. Through its EyeSmart® articles on AAO.org, the Academy provides the public with the most trusted information about eye health. For more information, visit aao.org.