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Cases of leading cause of blindness expected to increase as population ages

Prevent Blindness Wisconsin educates the public on glaucoma and what steps can be taken to lessen vision loss

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world and the leading cause of blindness in African American and Hispanic populations in the United States. In fact, in Wisconsin alone, there are more than 41,000 residents ages 40 and older who have the disease, according to a study by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute (NEI). As a person ages, the risk for developing glaucoma increases. A new report estimates that Americans will live eight years longer than previously projected, meaning an increase in costs for Medicare, Social Security and other government programs.

Today, glaucoma costs the U.S. economy $2.86 billion every year in direct medical costs for outpatient, inpatient and prescription drug services. Glaucoma patients between the ages of 40 and 64 years of age can expect to pay more than $3,000 annually per person for those services. For those 65 and older, the annual costs jump to $5,243 per person.

“Because of our aging baby boomer population, we recognize that the prevalence of glaucoma and other agerelated eye diseases will increase significantly,” said Bob Goldstein, President & CEO, Prevent Blindness Wisconsin. “With our healthcare system already in crisis, the projected increase in age-related disease cases and associated costs will only spiral upward.”

Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes loss of sight by damaging a part of the eye called the optic nerve. This nerve sends information from the eyes to the brain. When the optic nerve is damaged, peripheral vision begins to diminish. If left untreated, over time, glaucoma may also damage central vision. Unfortunately, once vision is lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored. Vision loss can be lessened, however, if glaucoma is detected and treated early.

Besides age, other risk factors include sex and race. Glaucoma is more common in women, but by age 65, the prevalence of glaucoma becomes more comparable between the sexes. Hispanic, Caucasian and African American populations are more susceptible to open angle glaucoma while acute angleclosure is more common in certain Asian populations and Americans of Asian descent, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation.

Other alarming statistics include:

  • Glaucoma is six to eight times more likely to occur in African Americans
  • African Americans develop glaucoma at an earlier age—on average, about 10 years earlier than in other ethnic populations
  • Glaucoma is about four times more likely to cause blindness in African Americans
  • A study by the Wilmer Eye Institute and Johns Hopkins University found that open-angle glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness among Hispanics
  • According to the same study, only 38 percent of Hispanics with glaucoma were aware of their disease

Other factors that may increase the chance of having the disease include:

Family history – If you have a parent, brother or sister with glaucoma, you are more likely to get glaucoma too. If you have glaucoma, your family members should get dilated eye exams.

Medical history – Diabetes, previous eye injuries, eye surgery or long-term steroid use can increase your risk of glaucoma.

January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and Prevent Blindness Wisconsin seeks to educate the public on what they can do to maintain their eye and vision health.

Prevent Blindness Wisconsin offers a brochure on Vision Resources & Services for Wisconsin Adults, as well as, information on Medicare coverage for glaucoma exams.

“We hope that everyone will make a New Year’s resolution to take care of their eyes and make an appointment to get a dilated eye exam,” added Goldstein.

Prevent Blindness Wisconsin offers a variety of fact sheets and brochures including a glaucoma “Eye Q” quiz, a glaucoma 17-point checklist and a guide for people who have been diagnosed with the disease. Materials on glaucoma are available in both English and Spanish by calling (414) 765-0505 or by visiting www.preventblindness.org/wi.

About Prevent Blindness Wisconsin

For over 50 years, Prevent Blindness Wisconsin has pursued its mission to prevent blindness and preserve sight. The agency provides free vision screenings to preschool children, school age children, and adults. It also provides public and professional education in vision health, safety, and vision loss prevention.

Prevent Blindness Wisconsin is the only non profit organization in the state providing these services. Since 1958 Prevent Blindness Wisconsin has screened more than 5 million children and over 230,000 adults. Prevent Blindness Wisconsin receives no government money, and relies entirely on the public and business community for support of its sight saving services. For more information or to make a sight saving contribution, call (414) 765-0505.