This is glaucoma month

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 3, 2008

By Coy O’Neal

The Selma Times-Journal

January 1 kicks off, not only a new year, but also National Glaucoma Awareness Month.

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Individuals are encouraged to see a doctor if they are at risk for the disease, Leroy Maxwell, optometrist with Eyemax Vision Center said.

“The whole idea is simply awareness, because glaucoma is so prevalent in our area,” Maxwell said.

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness in the world and the single leading cause of blindness for adult African Americans, who compose a near 70 percent majority in Dallas County, according to the 2000 U.S. Census.

Maxwell estimated that anywhere from 1,000 to 1,500 persons in Dallas County have the disease, based on statistics that indicate glaucoma sufferers comprise four percent of the general population.

It is a chronic illness, and there is no cure. And the most common form of glaucoma-open-angle glaucoma-has no symptoms.

With early detection and monitoring, complete blindness can most often be avoided, according to a fact sheet released by the Glaucoma Research Foundation.

“By the time African-Americans reach 75, as many as one in eight may have some form of glaucoma,” Maxwell said.

Prevent Blindness America, a volunteer organization focusing on eye health, estimates that only one-half of the 3 million Americans believed to have the disease know they have it. The Glaucoma Research Foundation recommends that African-Americans over 35 get a thorough check for glaucoma every one to two years after the age of 35.

The foundation also published a survey in which 80 percent of the survey’s participants had either never heard of glaucoma (30%) or had heard of glaucoma, but didn’t know what it was (50%).

“Most people that are diagnosed are not aware that they had the disease,” Maxwell said of Dallas County patients. “Patients that are sick do not go around and talk about it. In almost all cases, there are no symptoms. The best way to find out (if one has the disease) is to go to your eye doctor.”

Maxwell plans to conduct a free screening in January, which will be announced in The Selma Times-Journal.