SAN FRANCISCO - Each year as the New Year approaches people around the world resolve to make changes that will result in longer, happier and healthier lives. Often people are determined to lose weight while others are committed to kicking unhealthy habits such as smoking. This year EyeCare America would like to add "Get a Glaucoma Eye Exam!" to the list of healthy resolutions and January's Glaucoma Awareness Month is the perfect time to do it.
Vision loss from Glaucoma can be devastating and drastically change the life of a once active adult. In fact, nearly three million people have glaucoma, but half do not realize it because there are often no warning symptoms.
In a healthy eye, fluid is constantly being made and drained through a microscopic, drainage canal. When something blocks or prevents this natural drainage, the pressure inside the eye goes up. Glaucoma is often caused by increased pressure that can develop when the fluids in the eye are not draining properly. This condition eventually damages the nerve that connects the eye to the brain (the optic nerve) and leads to loss of vision.
In honor of Glaucoma Awareness Month taking place in January, EyeCare America, the public service foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, encourages those without insurance to take advantage of its national Glaucoma EyeCare Program. The program offers glaucoma eye exams for those at increased risk of glaucoma. To see if you, a loved one or a friend, is eligible to receive a referral for an eye exam and care, call 1-800-391-EYES (3937), 24 hours a day, every day, year round. All eligible callers receive a referral to one of EyeCare America's 7,300 volunteer ophthalmologists.
Those eligible for a referral through the glaucoma program receive a glaucoma eye exam and the initiation of treatment, if deemed necessary. Uninsured patients receive the above care at no charge.
What are the symptoms for Glaucoma?
While occasionally, the condition may come on suddenly; most cases progress so slowly there are often no warning signs before damage inside the eye has already occurred. In many cases, a person's side vision (peripheral vision) is affected.
Who is at risk?
While the causes for glaucoma are not completely known, we do know that risk factors for its development include family history, race and older age. Glaucoma may affect people of any age from newborns to the elderly but is more common in adults as they approach their senior years. African-Americans, Hispanics and people with diabetes are also at higher risk of getting the disease.
How is glaucoma treated?
Glaucoma can be treated with any of the following:
- Eye drops that lower eye pressure
- Laser therapy that allows for better drainage of fluids inside the eye
- Eye surgery to create a new drainage canal
If not treated, glaucoma can and does lead to total blindness. Glaucoma is easily detected with a medical eye examination. Ophthalmologists (medical eye doctors) can measure the pressure inside the eye with a quick and painless, office test. Glaucoma doesn't have to interfere with leading a happy, sighted and fulfilling life. Detecting the disease early can save your sight!
The Glaucoma EyeCare Program promotes early detection and treatment of glaucoma. It raises awareness of glaucoma risk factors, provides free glaucoma educational materials and facilitates access to a glaucoma eye examination.
The Glaucoma EyeCare Program is designed for people who:
- Are U.S. citizens or legal residents
- Have not had an eye exam in 12 months or more
- Are deemed to be at increased risk for glaucoma (as determined by family history, race, age)
People may call the toll-free help line at 1-800-391-EYES (3937) anytime, for themselves and/or family members and friends, to see if they qualify for a glaucoma eye exam or to request free eye care information.
Facts about Glaucoma
- Approximately 120,000 are blinded by glaucoma, accounting for 9 to 12 percent of all cases of blindness in the U.S.;
- Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among African-Americans;
- Hispanics have a five percent incidence of glaucoma, which is more than double that of the general population;
- Glaucoma is 4 times more common in African-Americans than Caucasians.
- The most common form, Open Angle Glaucoma, accounts for 19 percent of all blindness among African-Americans compared to 6 percent in Caucasians;
- Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S. and the first leading cause of preventable blindness.
Founded in 1985, EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, is committed to the preservation of sight, accomplishing its mission through public service and education. EyeCare America's public service programs provide eye care services to the medically underserved and for those at increased risk for eye disease through its corps of 7,300 volunteer ophthalmologists dedicated to serving their communities. More than 90 percent of the care made available is provided with no out-of-pocket cost to the patients. Public service includes programs for seniors, glaucoma, diabetes and children, and is the largest program of its kind in American medicine. Since its inception, EyeCare America has helped more than 860,000 people.
EyeCare America is a non-profit organization whose success is made possible through charitable contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations. More information can be found at: www.eyecareamerica.org