News Releases

January 14, 2004

Eye ophthalmologist urges eye exams during Glaucoma Awareness Month

(Atlanta) The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the Eye M.D. Association, and the Emory Eye Center, Atlanta, urge those who may be at risk for developing glaucoma to get a complete eye examination from an Eye M.D. during January as part of Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma, a condition associated with elevated pressure inside the eye, can damage the optic nerve and cause vision loss.

According to the National Eye Institute, approximately 2.5 million Americans have glaucoma. Unfortunately, half of them are unaware they have the potentially blinding disease because they have no symptoms. As the disease progresses, any of the following symptoms may appear:

o Loss of peripheral vision
o Difficulty focusing on objects
o Presence of haloes around lights
o Blurred vision

Although anyone can develop glaucoma, it tends to be more prevalent among African Americans and Hispanics. The risk also increases with age. The Academy recommends eye examinations at least every one to two years for:

o African Americans over age 40
o Anyone over age 65
o People with a family history of glaucoma
o Individuals who have experienced a serious eye injury
o People with diabetes (yearly exams are recommended)

Emory Eye Center glaucoma specialist Allen Beck, MD, says, "Glaucoma, when caught and treated early, can be managed for the remainder of one's lifetime. Because symptoms can come on gradually, they are often overlooked, and by the time we see patients, their disease has progressed to a more serious point. If these patients had been checked early on, their prognosis would be much better."

Dr. Beck was a Principal Investigator in a recent study (2002) that found that early detection and treatment reduces the progression of glaucoma by 50 percent. "Although glaucoma cannot be cured, it can be controlled and vision preserved when the patient is treated with eye drops, oral medications or outpatient laser surgery," he says. "Unfortunately, if left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness. A good first step toward eye health is to get a comprehensive eye exam."

Background

A 2002 National Eye Institute study stated that more Americans than ever are facing the threat of blindness from age-related eye disease. More than one million Americans aged 40 and over are currently blind, and an additional 2.4 million are visually impaired. Although Georgians fare better than the national average, the statistics should make anyone over 40 take notice and seek annual eye exams.

Further, these numbers are expected to double over the next 30 years as the Baby Boomer generation ages. At the Emory Eye Center, those over the age of 40 are seen only a daily basis for such disorders and diseases as macular degeneration, cataract, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, and more.

About 2.2 million Americans have been diagnosed with glaucoma, and another two million do not know they have it. In Georgia, the prediction is that 62,000 persons over the age of 40 will develop glaucoma.

Media Contact: Joy H. Bell, jbell@emory.edu, 404-778-3711

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