2007-01-10 / Health

January is National Eye Care Month

Make a Resolution to Prevent Glaucoma from Stealing Your Sight
by: Dr. Maurice Zadeh

Bring the stationary bicycle and rowing machine out of storage. Throw away that last pack of cigarettes. Eat the last Christmas cookie. The New Year has arrived, and it's time to get in shape.

If one of your New Year's resolutions is to work off a few pounds (particularly those around the mid-section), stop smoking, and/or eat more healthy foods in 2007, you are like millions of other Americans who use the beginning of a new year to jump-start plans to improve their health. Let me offer my best wishes for success in keeping your resolutions.

Let me also suggest something else you might consider doing that could have a great impact on your physical wellbeing, and that is to get your eyes examined. Many people don't know it, but eye health is intrinsically linked to overall health. By looking into your eyes, your optometrist can tell a lot about your general health. For example, did you know that some systemic and chronic diseases, especially diabetes, can often be detected by an optometrist during a comprehensive eye exam?

There are also other eye diseases, like glaucoma, that may cause vision damage and eventually blindness without the patient ever experiencing any symptoms. During a comprehensive eye exam, your optometrist measures the pressure within your eye and examines the optic nerve in the eye, thereby determining the existence of glaucoma.

Glaucoma damages the optic nerve that is needed for seeing. It is related to a build-up of pressure inside the eye, although some people with glaucoma have normal pressure readings. Damage caused by glaucoma cannot be reversed and is currently known as one of the leading causes of blindness in the world. However, If glaucoma is diagnosed early, there are ways to lessen its effects and save one's sight from fully deteriorating. Anyone can develop glaucoma, but people at greatest risk are those over age 40, black Americans, people with diabetes, those who are very near-sighted, and persons who have a family history of glaucoma. Glaucoma usually affects one in 200 people by age 50, but as many as one in 10 people by age 80.

The most common type of glaucoma usually develops gradually and painlessly, without warning signs or symptoms. It affects side (peripheral) vision first, and people can lose a great deal of their sight, but with proper treatment, usually involving prescription eye drops and medicines, vision loss can be minimized. In some cases laser procedures or surgery may be required.

According to the Georgia Optometric Association (GOA) and the American Optometric Association (AOA), the best defense against glaucoma, especially for people in high-risk groups, is to see their optometrist once a year for a thorough eye health and vision examination. This exam will include a tonometry test to measure pressure inside the eye, a field-of-vision test and an evaluation of the optic nerve through dilated pupils. Between eye exams, people should be alert for symptoms of a less common but fast-acting type of glaucoma and see their optometrist immediately if they experience blurred vision or a loss of side vision, see colored rings or halos around lights, or have pain or redness in the eyes.

For the sake of your vision- and your health- schedule an eye exam early in the New Year. And then get back on that rowing machine and start rowing!

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