Glaucoma Awareness at heart of eye health initiatives

January 15, 2020

The silent nature of glaucoma makes the disease especially challenging which is why Prevent Blindness is collaborating with other leading eye care groups in declaring January as National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Awareness is key to early detection and treatment of glaucoma.

The silent nature of glaucoma makes the disease especially challenging, which is why Prevent Blindness is collaborating with other leading eye care groups in declaring January as National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Awareness is key to early detection and treatment of glaucoma.

This year, ironically the year of perfect vision, it is expected that in excess of 3 million Americans aged 40 years and older will have glaucoma, according to Prevent Blindness.

During the national month of awareness, Prevent Blindness will double down on its efforts to educate the public about glaucoma, including risk factors, types of glaucoma, treatment options, and financial support, and Medicare coverage, among others. The organization is focused on promoting a continuum of vision care by facilitating public and professional education, advocacy, certified vision screening and training, community and patient service programs, and research.

Prevent Blindness offers a dedicated web page that provides patients and their caregivers with free information; an online resource, Living Well with Low Vision; or its toll-free number (800-331-2020).

The sneak thief

Glaucoma, often referred to as the “The Sneak Thief of Sight,” damages the optic nerve. Patients are initially symptom-free, but the peripheral vision slowly deteriorates and makes performing tasks such as driving increasingly difficult.

There are numerous risk factors for development of glaucoma, as Prevent Blindness points out, gender being the first, i.e., more women have glaucoma. Other factors include older age, race, family history of the disease, and medical history also play a role.

More specifically, the older a person is, the greater the risk becomes for developing glaucoma, and this is especially true for individuals who are older than 60 years of age. African-Americans are affected by glaucoma at an even younger age, i.e., 40 years and over, and this population is 4 to 5 times more likely to have glaucoma than others.
Individuals of Hispanic descent are also at increased risk for glaucoma as they age. Angle-closure glaucoma has higher prevalence rates among people who are Asian and Native American.

History does repeat itself, both familially and medically. If a person has a relative with glaucoma, he or she is more likely to develop the disease. Family members of those who receive a glaucoma diagnosis should undergo a comprehensive eye examination. The medical history may point to a risk for development of glaucoma if a patient has a history of high IOP, has sustained a previous eye injury, has used steroids over the long term, or are farsighted or nearsighted.

Prevent Blindness also has announced that it is also partnering with Allergan to spearhead this educational effort. Allergan launched the My Glaucoma campaign in late 2019, which, the company describes, was designed to help people understand the burden of living with glaucoma and empower those with the disease and their caregivers to feel comfortable speaking with their doctor about a treatment regimen that fits their lifestyle. More information about the program can be obtained by visiting www.MyGlaucoma.com.

“The year 2020 is an ideal reminder for all of us to make the resolution today to save our vision for tomorrow,” said Jeff Todd, president and chief executive officer of Prevent Blindness. “By detecting vision problems and treating them early, including those from glaucoma, we can help to avoid significant vision impairment.”

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) is also an education advocate both for health care professionals and patients. The EyeSmart website is a free resource designed to help health care professionals educate their community about eye diseases including glaucoma.

AAO also emphasizes the connection between development of glaucoma and other medical conditions, i.e., that there is a higher risk of development of glaucoma in the presence of high blood pressure, diabetes, migraines, poor blood circulation, or other health problems affecting individuals systemically.

The AAO’s EyeCare America program provides free eye care to medically underserved seniors aged 65 years and older and glaucoma examinations to those at increased risk. The organization offers drug discount cards or information about drug assistance programs as well as free eye examinations.

Two programs are available within EyeCare America.

The first, The Seniors Program, connects eligible individuals who are 65 years and older with local volunteer ophthalmologists who provide a medical eye examination often at no out-of-pocket cost and up to 1 year of follow-up care for any condition diagnosed during the initial examination, for the physician services.

The second, The Glaucoma Program, is an awareness program that provides a baseline glaucoma eye examination to those who may not be aware they are at increased risk. For those who are eligible and without insurance, the glaucoma examination is free, and those who are eligible and insured are billed for a normal office procedure and responsible for any co-payments.