SOURCE: American Academy of Ophthalmology

American Academy of Ophthalmology

March 09, 2009 11:30 ET

World Glaucoma Day Highlights the Need to Know Your Risks, Save Your Sight

SAN FRANCISCO, CA--(Marketwire - March 9, 2009) - Glaucoma's special danger is that it can significantly damage the optic nerve before a person notices problems with his eyesight. To get a jump on glaucoma -- the second leading cause of preventable blindness worldwide -- you need to know your general and familial risks and see Eye M.D. (ophthalmologist) for regular exams. March 12 marks World Glaucoma Day, and the American Academy of Ophthalmology reminds the public that knowing your risks can help save your sight.

"World Glaucoma Day challenges us to take action to reduce the terrible impact of glaucoma," said H. Dunbar Hoskins Jr., MD, executive vice president of the Academy. "Fifty to 75 percent of Americans with glaucoma are unaware that they have the disease. Once vision is lost to glaucoma it cannot be restored, but when we detect and treat it early we can often preserve vision so people can maintain active lives."

World Glaucoma Day, a joint initiative of the World Glaucoma Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Association, was launched in 2008 to respond to the worldwide increase in glaucoma. By the year 2020, an estimated 80 million people worldwide will have glaucoma, and 11 million of them will be blind in both eyes.

Among Americans, higher risk groups include people of African or Hispanic heritage. Elderly African Americans are five times more likely to develop glaucoma and 14 to 17 times more likely to become blind than those of European ancestry. The risk for Hispanic Americans rises significantly after age 60. Anyone with a family history of the illness is four to nine times more susceptible. Other glaucoma risk factors include being over 60, nearsightedness, previous eye injuries, steroid use, and a history of cardiovascular disorders, diabetes, or migraine headache.

The Academy's EyeSmart campaign recommends that adults with no symptoms or risk factors have a baseline screening at age 40 when age-related eye diseases and vision changes may begin. Those with risk factors for glaucoma or other eye diseases, including familial history, should see their ophthalmologist to determine how often to have exams.

EyeCare America, a public service program of the Foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, offers a Glaucoma EyeCare Program to promote early detection and treatment. The program provides educational materials and facilitates access to free eye exams for qualified, uninsured patients. People may call the toll-free help line at 1-800-391-EYES (3937) for themselves and/or family members. Help lines are open 24 hours a day, every day, year-round. More information on EyeCare America can be found at www.eyecareamerica.org.

About Glaucoma

Glaucoma damages the optic nerve, the part of the eye that carries images to the brain. As glaucoma worsens, cells die in the retina -- a special, light-sensitive area of the eye -- reducing the optic nerve's ability to relay visual information to the brain. In the most common form of the disease, primary open-angle glaucoma, the first symptom is often narrowing of the visual field followed by the development of blank spots. Symptoms of the less common but more acutely dangerous form of the disease, closed-angle glaucoma, include blurred vision, severe eye pain and headache, rainbow-colored halos around lights, and nausea and vomiting. A person experiencing these symptoms needs to be treated by an Eye M.D. right away.

More information on glaucoma and how to preserve vision, as well as how to access care, is available on the Academy-sponsored web site www.geteyesmart.org. Additional information about World Glaucoma Day is available at www.wgday.net.

Broadcast eds: Glaucoma B-roll footage is available from the Academy. Please contact the Academy's media relations department for download information.

About the American Academy of Ophthalmology

The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world's largest association of eye physicians and surgeons -- Eye M.D.s -- with more than 27,000 members worldwide. Eye health care is provided by the three "O's" -- opticians, optometrists and ophthalmologists. It is the ophthalmologist, or Eye M.D., who can treat it all: eye diseases and injuries, and perform eye surgery. To find an Eye M.D. in your area, visit the Academy's Web site at www.aao.org.

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