Glaucoma awareness promotes eye exams

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Doctor Alice M. Townshend, an ophthalmologist at Beloit Health System, urges individuals age 60 and over to get an eye exam to check for glaucoma.

Nearly four million Americans have an eye disorder that leads to permanent sight loss, but more than half of them have no idea.

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month, and as such, physicians are encouraging individuals age 60 and older to get their vision checked annually.

“Glaucoma can be very progressed before people even start to have symptoms,” said Dr. Alice M. Townshend, an ophthalmologist at Beloit Health System. “That’s why people should get their eyes checked.”

Glaucoma is a degenerative eye disorder that gradually takes away peripheral vision by destroying the cells which make up the optic nerve.

There are two types of the disorder. The first, open angle glaucoma, has no pain associated with the degeneration. The less common type of the disorder is closed angle glaucoma.

“There is no current cure for glaucoma, and you cannot restore vision already lost to the disease,” said Dr. Kellye Knueppel, the 2013 Wisconsin Optometric Association President, in a press release. “However, if diagnosed and treated early by a licensed eye doctor, it can be managed in most cases.”

Townshend says that glaucoma is one of the four leading causes of blindness. The other three are cataracts, macular degeneration and complications from diabetes.

If an individual is diagnosed with glaucoma, it is likely that one of three treatment paths will be followed.

“The first would be to treat the glaucoma with eyedrops and medicine to lower the pressure in the eye; the second would be a laser treatment and the third would be an advanced surgical procedure,” Townshend said.

Many factors such as age, race and genetics can increase the risk of developing glaucoma. Those at the most risk include adults over the age of 60 in the Hispanic and African American communities.

Individuals with a family history of glaucoma or those with diabetes are also at risk. Townshend says that people who have a family history should begin to get their eyes checked at age 40.

For more information on glaucoma and the Wisconsin Optometric Association or to find a licensed optometrist for an eye exam, visit www.woa-eyes.org or see www.wieyemd.org.

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