Don’t risk your sight, have your eyes tested

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, January 14, 2004

According to the National Eye Institute, almost 3 million American suffer from glaucoma. It is estimated that half of those are unaware that they have the disease.

That is tragic. It also accounts for the fact that glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness in Americans age 60 and older. The disease strikes especially hard at African-Americans, for whom it is the leading cause of blindness in those age 40 and older.

The good news is that, if diagnosed early, glaucoma can be treated. Because of the lack of symptoms, however, too many people wait until the disease reaches an advanced stage before seeking treatment.

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. The National Eye Institute recommends that those at risk should have their eyes examined through dilated pupils at least every two years.

Glaucoma occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eye progressively increases, leading to optic nerve damage and reduced peripheral vision. As the disease worsens, the field of vision gradually narrows and blindness may result.

In addition to pupil dilation, glaucoma testing should include tonometry, a test that measures pressure withint the eye – and, when indicated, a visual test field, which can detect early loss of peripheral vision.

While it is not yet known why certain groups are more susceptible to the disease, the statistics are alarming.

African-Americans are five times more likely than Caucasians to develop the disease;

African-Americans develop the disease at an earlier age than do Caucasians, and it advances more rapidly and more severely in blacks than in whites;

By age 70, one in 50 whites and one in eight blacks will have glaucoma.

An ounce of prevention, the saying goes, is worth a pound of cure. We urge our readers to take their cue from Glaucoma Awareness Month and get their eyes tested.

Do it now.

Before it’s too late.