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What Do Heavy Rains Have in Common With Glaucoma?

Every winter across the US, heavy rains bring thoughts of flooding, backed up drainage systems and overflowing streets. When the drains and city sewers get clogged, the overflow of winter rains can bring a once bustling community to a grinding halt. Like the back up caused by winter’s inevitable down pour, poor drainage of a person’s eye can lead to high eye pressure which is a cause of glaucoma. It’s also known as the “sneak thief of sight.” The vision loss can be devastating and drastically change the life of a once active adult. In fact, nearly three million people have glaucoma, but half do not realize it because there are often no warning symptoms.

In a healthy eye, fluid is constantly being made and drained through a microscopic, drainage canal. When something blocks or prevents this natural drainage, the pressure inside the eye goes up. Glaucoma is often caused by increased pressure that can develop when the fluids in the eye are not draining properly. This condition eventually damages the nerve that connects the eye to the brain (the optic nerve) and leads to loss of vision.

In honor of Glaucoma Awareness Month taking place in January 2010, EyeCare America, the public service foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, encourages those without insurance to take advantage of its national Glaucoma EyeCare Program. The program offers glaucoma eye exams for those at increased risk of glaucoma.

To see if you, a loved one or a friend, is eligible to receive a referral for an eye exam and care, call 1-800-391-EYES (3937), 24 hours a day, every day, year round.  All eligible callers receive a referral to one of EyeCare America’s 7,000 volunteer ophthalmologists.

Those eligible for a referral through the glaucoma program receive a glaucoma eye exam and the initiation of treatment, if deemed necessary. Uninsured patients will receive the above care at no charge.

What are the Symptoms of Glaucoma?

While occasionally the condition may come on suddenly, most cases progress so slowly there are often no warning signs before damage inside the eye has already occurred. In most cases, a person’s side vision (peripheral vision) is noticeably affected.

Who is at Risk?

While the causes for glaucoma are not completely known, we do know that risk factors for its development include family history, race and older age. Glaucoma may affect people of any age from newborns to the elderly but is more common in adults as they approach their senior years. African-Americans, Hispanics and people with diabetes are also at higher risk of getting the disease.

How is Glaucoma Treated?

Glaucoma can be treated with any of the following:

• Eye drops that lower eye pressure

• Laser therapy that allows for better drainage of fluids inside the eye

• Eye surgery to create a new drainage canal

If not treated, glaucoma can and does lead to total blindness. Glaucoma is easily detected with a medical eye examination. Ophthalmologists (medical eye doctors) can measure the pressure inside the eye with a quick and painless office test. Glaucoma doesn’t have to interfere with leading a happy, sighted and fulfilling life. Detecting the disease early can save your sight!

The Glaucoma EyeCare Program promotes early detection and treatment of glaucoma. It raises awareness of glaucoma risk factors, provides free glaucoma educational materials and facilitates access to a glaucoma eye examination.

The Glaucoma EyeCare Program is Designed for People Who:

• Are US citizens or legal residents

• Have not had an eye exam in 12 months or more

• Are deemed to be at increased risk for glaucoma (as determined by family history, race, age)

People may call the toll-free help line at 1-800-391-EYES (3937) anytime, for themselves and/or family members and friends, to see if they qualify for a glaucoma eye exam or to request free eye care information.

Founded in 1985, EyeCare America, the public service foundation of the American Academy of Ophthalmology, is committed to the preservation of sight, accomplishing its mission through public service and education. EyeCare America’s public service programs provide eye care services to the medically underserved and for those at increased risk for eye disease through its corps of 7,000 volunteer ophthalmologists dedicated to serving their communities.  More than 90 percent of the care made available is provided with no out-of-pocket cost to the patients. Public service includes programs for seniors, glaucoma, diabetes, AMD and children, and is the largest program of its kind in American medicine. Since its inception, EyeCare America has helped more than 1 million people.

EyeCare America is a non-profit organization whose success is made possible through charitable contributions from individuals, foundations and corporations. More information can be found at: www.eyecareamerica.org