Health Watch -- Blindness Causes (Part 2)

Health Watch is a Public Service of the Office of News and Publications and is intended to provide general information only and should not replace the advice of a medical professional. You should contact your physician if you have questions about any of these topics.

Older African Americans are at greater risk of going blind, but proper care and prevention could help save many people's sight.

About 60 percent of the older African Americans in the study who went blind suffered from either glaucoma or cataracts.

Doctors at UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas say glaucoma causes blindness when pressure on the inside of the eye damages the optic nerve. Unfortunately, glaucoma doesn't cause symptoms until the disease has already destroyed a patient's vision. Dr. Jess Whitson, a UT Southwestern ophthalmologist, says regular screenings are essential for preventing blindness. If glaucoma is detected early enough, treatment can prevent or delay vision loss.

Other glaucoma risk factors include smoking, heart disease, diabetes and family history of the disease. Adults over the age of 60 should have an annual eye exam to screen for the disease. Anyone with risk factors should begin annual exams at age 40. If you wear glasses or contact lenses, your doctor probably already screens for glaucoma during your regular eye exam.

Cataracts occur when the eye's lens becomes cloudy, blocking vision. Blindness from cataracts can be prevented with a relatively simple eye surgery to replace the cloudy lens.

Talk to your doctor about potential problems before you lose your sight.


May 2004