Glaucoma often hard to see without screenings

Symptoms of glaucoma often are not recognized until permanent damage has already occurred.

Glaucoma usually results from increased pressure within the eye that damages the optic nerve, eventually affecting peripheral vision and potentially causing blindness. But with early detection and treatment, blindness may be prevented.

“It usually is a disease of older patients,” says Dr. Jess Whitson, professor of ophthalmology at UT Southwestern Medical Center. “It’s estimated that as many as 3 million people in this country have glaucoma, but only about half of them are aware that they have it.”

Ophthalmologists recommend screenings for people 40 and older, and for those with a family history of the disease or a history of eye trauma.

“Glaucoma already is a leading cause of blindness in African-Americans and Hispanics, who are three to four times more at risk, especially as they get older,” says Dr. Whitson, a leading expert on the disease. “Demographic changes are going to lead to even more glaucoma cases. Patients are getting older, and there are growing minority populations at greater risk for developing this disease.”

Medicare now covers preventive screenings for African-Americans older than 50, and any beneficiary with a history of diabetes or family history of glaucoma. Diagnosis requires an exam to measure the pressure in the eye and involves dilating the pupil and often a peripheral visual field test.

“Screening measures for glaucoma are pretty simple, painless and quick, but are extremely important,” Dr. Whitson says.

Media Contact: Russell Rian

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