Welcome to Doctors’ Notes, our contribution from Urban Health correspondents (and husband and wife) physicians Dr. Rob and Dr. Karla Robinson. The dynamic duo will be fielding questions about health, as it relates to African Americans. Please feel free to send them questions via firstname.lastname@example.org. We promise to keep it anonymous.
The leading cause of blindness in our community, glaucoma often has no symptoms in its early stages. However, knowing that glaucoma occurs frequently in African Americans and getting your eyes checked regularly is the best way to detect glaucoma and prevent vision loss through early treatment. We interviewed Dr. Robert Fechtner, an ophthalmologist specializing in glaucoma who also has a passion for raising awareness about the disease. Here he shares some valuable tips on keeping your eyes healthy and preventing vision loss.
JET: How common is glaucoma?
Dr. Fechtner: Estimates are that about 2.5 million Americans have glaucoma and about half of those don’t even know they have it. So overall the risk of glaucoma is a little less than 1 in 100. It is 5-10 times more common in African Americans and the risk increases with aging.
JET: What percentage of those with glaucoma progress to blindness?
Dr. F: About 2% of people with glaucoma progress to blindness. However, there can be vision loss that is less severe than blindness but that interferes with other activities such as driving, reading, work and recreation. Blindness from glaucoma is 6-8 times more common in African Americans. Disabling vision loss is about 15 times more common.
JET: What makes glaucoma particularly dangerous?
Dr. F: Glaucoma is dangerous because it has no symptoms. The only way to know you have early glaucoma is to get your eyes tested. Many people only get their eyes checked if they are not seeing well or if their eyes are not comfortable.
JET: How often do we need to be screened for glaucoma?
Dr. F: It is a good idea to get a complete eye examination between ages 20-40. After age 40 get your eyes checked every 2-3 years, but if glaucoma runs in your family get an eye exam every year. Once you turn 65 you should get your eyes examined every year. The only good screening examination for glaucoma is a complete eye examination. A pressure check alone is not enough. The doctor must look inside your eyes and may recommend some additional testing.
JET: Are there any new treatments that are making glaucoma easier to live with?
Dr. F: Most people with glaucoma will be able to control their disease with one or two eye drops daily. The medicines are usually very safe and well tolerated and the biggest problems are to remember to use them and to get the drop in the eye successfully. Get a family member to help. Use the alarm on your phone as a reminder. Build the drops into your daily routine. For example, use them every night, as you get ready for bed. Many doctors will recommend laser surgery for glaucoma. This can also be effective and is very safe.
JET: What dietary and lifestyle changes can help to decrease the risk of glaucoma?
Dr. F: The single biggest lifestyle habit that can decrease the risk of losing vision from glaucoma is to take good care of yourself. Get your eyes tested. In addition, most experts believe that a heart-healthy diet and lifestyle is also healthy for the eyes.
It’s a health thing…we’ve got to understand!
About the Doctors: Dr. Karla and Dr. Rob are the founders of Urban Housecall, a multimedia health and wellness resource, and also hosts of the Urban Housecall Radio Show. For more from the doctors, visit their website at www.urbanhousecall.com, like them on Facebook, and follow them on Twitter @urbanhousecall!