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Glaucoma – The Secret Sight-Stealing Disease

As a fan of the Eagles in my younger days I knew all the words to their hit song, Hotel California. I can relate to one line, “my head grew heavy and my sight grew dim,” much more now that I am older. I do get tired more easily and old age has dimmed my sight somewhat. Glaucoma is much more serious than the incremental sight dimming of old age; it is an insidious disease that can steal our sight without much warning.  

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, a time for us all to spread the word about this sinister disease that affects many of us. Here are some facts about glaucoma:

  • Glaucoma is a group of diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve and can result in vision loss and even blindness.
  • About 3 million Americans have glaucoma. It is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide.
  • Open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, results in increased eye pressure. There are often no early symptoms, which is why 50% of people with glaucoma don’t know they have the disease.
  • There is no cure (yet) for glaucoma, but if it’s caught early, you can preserve your vision and prevent vision loss. Taking action to preserve your vision health is key.

Anyone can get glaucoma, but certain groups are at higher risk. These groups include African Americans over age 40, all people over age 60, people with a family history of glaucoma, and people who have diabetes. African Americans are 6 to 8 times more likely to get glaucoma than whites. People with diabetes are 2 times more likely to get glaucoma than people without diabetes.

One big reason that this year may be especially important to think about our eyes is the COVID pandemic. Almost all of us have postponed some type of healthcare appointment due to the pandemic. Sometimes, it has even been our healthcare provider that has cancelled or postponed an appointment. I suspect that a yearly eye examine is a prime candidate as an appointment that might have been postponed. This isn’t good since the best way to detect glaucoma is through an optometrist-administered comprehensive dilated eye exam. This is especially important of those who fall into any of the high-risk categories.

This pandemic has forced us to all make some hard, often heart wrenching choices. Everyone has been telling us to not touch our faces so venturing out to a doctor’s office to have someone touch our eyes and face doesn’t sound like a wise move. Here are a few things to consider: everyone in healthcare wears masks and masks have been shown to be a big deterrent to COVID-19; and the transmission by surface infection has shown to be much less of a risk. There are other things we can do to reduce the risk as we visit the doctor. This link gives us some excellent guidance about visiting the optometrist during the pandemic.

One other thing to consider, some of you may have already been vaccinated. I am scheduled to receive the first of the required two vaccinations later today. Two weeks after receiving your second COVID-19 vaccination your chances of catching COVID is greatly, and I mean GREATLY, reduced. After receiving your first vaccination think about making an appointment with your optometrist. You can calculate when your body will be protected, for the Pfizer-BioNTech it is three weeks between vaccinations, add two weeks for your body to get fully protected and you can make your appointment five weeks after receiving the first vaccination. For the Moderna vaccine it will be six weeks after the first vaccination. Your eyesight is worth it!

As we grow older our head might grow heavy and our eyesight my seem a little dimmer but there are some things we can do to guard against glaucoma stealing our sight. Spread the word during National Glaucoma Awareness Month that now is the time to look ourselves, and our friends and families, in the eye (pun intended) and get checked for glaucoma.

Best, Thair

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Glaucoma Awareness Month

As we finish out the first month of the new year, we wanted to bring attention to a very important topic that is often overlooked: eye health. Many of us wear glasses or contacts, or even just use reading glasses occasionally, but we may take for granted the health of our eyes, which are just as prone to disease as other parts of our bodies. January of each year is Glaucoma Awareness Month, which was created in order to spread awareness about this serious disease.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness, with more than 3 million Americans currently affected, and displays no symptoms. It can affect people of all ages, but the most common types usually impact older populations. Additionally, there are certain risk factors for glaucoma, including belonging to certain racial or ethnic groups or having a family history of the disease. You can read more about potential risk factors here. Beneficiaries, and especially individuals with these risk factors, should take advantage of Medicare Part B, which covers a yearly screening for glaucoma. This test is performed by your eye doctor, and can help with early detection. Learn more about how Part B covers testing options here.

There is currently no cure for glaucoma, but scientists are continuously working to develop medications and surgical techniques to slow and prevent further vision loss in those affected. Still, there are many treatment options available for patients with glaucoma, including different medications and types of eye drops. Medicare Part D may be able to cover some of the costs of these prescriptions, so make sure you are enrolled in the right plan for you and know what drugs are included in your coverage. A great resource for finding a plan that works for you is the Medicare Prescription Drug Plan Finder, a resource that may be helpful in identifying a plan that covers your health-related needs.

Eye health is extremely important, and being informed about glaucoma risks and prevention is just one aspect of keeping your eyes healthy. Regular doctor’s visits and self-monitoring are also important to making sure your eyes are functioning properly. We are optimistic for a cure for glaucoma, and in the meantime, you can help this effort by getting involved in initiatives to eradicate the disease. The Glaucoma Research Foundation has some ideas for ways to help, so take a look and make sure you are doing your part this January to help support healthy eye function for all!