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Survey Finds Many Americans Clueless About Eye Disease

Findings point to need for education, outreach efforts, experts say

THURSDAY, March 13 (HealthDay News) -- Many Americans are unaware of the warning signs of eye diseases that could blind them if not detected and treated soon enough, a new survey shows.

The telephone survey, released Thursday by the U.S. National Eye Institute and the Lions Clubs International Foundation, included interviews conducted with 3,000 adults between October 2005 and January 2006. The findings highlight the need to educate people about common eye diseases such as glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, and age-related macular degeneration.

"Good eyesight is important to our quality of life, and it is essential for adults to have accurate information to help them make informed decisions about their eye health needs," Dr. Paul A. Sieving, director of the eye institute, said in a prepared statement. "These survey results will help us identify specific ways in which we can close the gap in knowledge about eye diseases and address disparities that exist."

Among the findings:

  • While 71 percent of respondents said losing their eyesight would have a devastating impact on their daily life, only 8 percent knew there were no early warning signs of glaucoma, a disease that can damage the optic nerve and result in vision loss and blindness.
  • Fifty-one percent said they'd heard that diabetes increases the risk of developing eye disease, but only 11 percent knew there are usually no warning signs.
  • Only 16 percent knew of the term "low vision," which affects millions of Americans and can't be corrected with standard eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery. Low vision makes it difficult to do simple everyday activities such as reading, cooking, writing, watching TV and shopping.
  • Among all racial/ethnic groups, Hispanic respondents reported the lowest access to eye health information, knew the least about eye health, and were least likely to have their eye examined. The survey found that 41 percent of Hispanics reported that they hadn't seen or heard anything about eye health or disease in the past year, compared with 28 percent of Asians, 26 percent of blacks, and 16 percent of whites.

The eye institute plans to use the survey findings to develop ways to increase public awareness of eye disease and the importance of early detection and treatment. The agency also plans to expand its educational outreach to Hispanics and boost its efforts to educate public health-care providers on how to inform patients about ways to protect and preserve their eyesight.

"The survey shows us that nearly one quarter of Americans have not seen or heard anything about eye health or disease, and yet more than 90 percent have seen a health-care provider," Sieving said. "We need to educate these doctors, nurses and other health-care professionals with the tools they need to educate their patients on how to better maintain their eye health."

More information

The U.S. National Eye Institute has more about eye disease risk.

-- Robert Preidt

SOURCE: U.S. National Eye Institute, news release, March 13, 2008

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