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World Glaucoma Day Set For March 12, 2009
Date:2/12/2009

The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary Joins International Observance To Draw Attention To "The Sneak Thief of Sight"

NEW YORK, Feb. 12 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- In an effort to combat one of the leading causes of blindness worldwide, the World Glaucoma Association and the World Glaucoma Patient Organization have set March 12, 2009, as the second annual World Glaucoma Day. The day will be marked by awareness and educational events organized by eye care institutions and local patient support groups on every continent, as listed on www.wgday.net.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States and the leading cause in African-Americans. About 50% of persons with glaucoma in the United States are unaware that they have it, while this number can reach 90% in developing countries.

Known as "the sneak thief of sight," glaucoma is characterized by gradual loss of vision resulting from death of the cells in the eye which transmit visual images through the optic nerve to the brain. As the optic nerve becomes increasingly damaged, permanent vision loss occurs and can result in blindness. Early detection is the key to treating and halting the effects of glaucoma.

"Because glaucoma strikes so silently and gradually, it is absolutely crucial to educate people about the value of early detection," said Robert Ritch, MD, professor and chief of glaucoma services at The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, co-founder of the World Glaucoma Patient Association, and member of the World Glaucoma Day committee for the World Glaucoma Association. "For a disease that causes permanent blindness, it is truly unacceptable that so many people remain unaware of its impact and consequences."

To emphasize the universal importance of early detection, Dr. Ritch and colleagues plan a glaucoma screening for delegates and staff of the United Nations. NYEE also expects to enlist the support of elected officials to recognize the importance of this health observance.

Persons at high risk for glaucoma should have their eyes examined for the disease at least every two years by an eye care professional. Persons most at risk include those with a family history of glaucoma, African-Americans over the age of 40, people who are very nearsighted or farsighted, and all persons over the age of 60.

In the early stages of glaucoma, there may be no symptoms and vision can appear to be normal until a large amount has been lost. If undetected and untreated, glaucoma will gradually claim all peripheral vision and move on to cause total blindness. With early detection, glaucoma can be treated with eye drops to lower intraocular pressure. Other methods include laser and operative surgery. Treatment can usually halt the disease, but it cannot reverse the damage that has been done. Glaucoma can develop in one or both eyes.

About World Glaucoma Association:

The World Glaucoma Association is a global organization dedicated to the overall improvement of glaucoma science and care. Comprised of leading medical experts and institutions throughout the world, the group's overall goal is to optimize the quality of glaucoma research and treatment through increased communication and cooperation among international glaucoma societies, industries, and patient organizations.

About World Glaucoma Patient Association:

The World Glaucoma Patient Association is an umbrella organization which supports glaucoma associations and networks worldwide in their efforts to educate and support their members so that all people with glaucoma can understand and better manage their disease. The WGPA facilitates the establishment of glaucoma support groups in many nations and coordinates communication and cooperation between existing groups, in addition to promoting international awareness of glaucoma as a cause of preventable blindness.

About Robert Ritch, MD, and The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary:

For more than 30 years, Robert Ritch, MD, of The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, has devoted his career to broadening understanding by the medical profession and patients about the nature of glaucoma and innovation in medical, laser, and surgical treatment of the disease. Dr. Ritch holds the Shelley and Steven Einhorn Distinguished Chair in Ophthalmology and is Surgeon Director and Chief of Glaucoma Services at the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary, New York City and Professor of Clinical Ophthalmology at The New York Medical College, Valhalla, New York.

Founded in 1820, The New York Eye and Ear Infirmary is the first specialty hospital in the Western Hemisphere. It is also one of the largest providers of primary through tertiary eye care in the U.S. with more than 19,000 eye surgeries and 125,000 ophthalmology outpatient visits each year.

Ask yourself on World Glaucoma Day, March 12, 2009

Who is at risk for glaucoma?

Anyone can develop glaucoma. Some people are at higher risk than others. They include:

  • African-Americans over age 40.
  • Everyone over age 60
  • People with a family history of glaucoma
  • People who are very nearsighted or farsighted

Among African-Americans, studies show that glaucoma is:

  • Five times more likely to occur in African-Americans than in Caucasians
  • About four times more likely to cause blindness
  • Fifteen times more likely to cause blindness in African-Americans between the ages of 45-64 than in Caucasians of the same age group

A comprehensive dilated eye exam can reveal more risk factors, such as high eye pressure, thinness of the cornea, and abnormal optic nerve anatomy. In some people with certain combinations of these high-risk factors, medicines in the form of eye drops reduce the risk of developing glaucoma by about half.

Medicare covers an annual comprehensive dilated eye exam for some people at high risk for glaucoma.

What can I do to protect my vision?

Studies have shown that the early detection and treatment of glaucoma, before it causes major vision loss, is the best way to control the disease. So, if you fall into one of the high-risk groups for the disease, make sure to have your eyes examined through dilated pupils every two years by an eye care professional.

If you are being treated for glaucoma, be sure to take your glaucoma medicine every day. See your eye care professional regularly.

You also can help protect the vision of family members and friends who may be at high risk for glaucoma -- African Americans over age 40, everyone over age 60, and people with a family history of the disease. Encourage them to have a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. Remember: lowering eye pressure in glaucoma's early stages slows progression of the disease and helps save vision.


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SOURCE The New York Eye & Ear Infirmary
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