The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recently disseminated results of a 1,200 person survey that reports that only 11 percent of Americans consider themselves at risk for any sort of eye disease.
The AAO report further states that those who are most at risk are typically unaware. The findings are echoed by Emory Eye Center physicians who agree, and find this to be true on a daily basis.
By 2020 more than 43 million in the U.S. will develop an age-related eye disease. As the report states, most won't be aware of a serious eye condition until they have significant symptoms. By that time, treatment options are diminished or, at worst case, not possible.
As a result of its findings, AAO now recommends that all adults be screened for eye disease by age 40, when symptoms and vision changes might appear. That means a dilated eye exam with an eye MD.
"Many serious eye diseases can have few or mild symptoms and often can progress without the patient realizing that something is wrong," says Emory Eye Center retina specialist Sunil Srivastava, MD. "By the time patients realize that their vision has been affected, some permanent damage may already have occurred. The earlier we catch eye disease, the more treatment options we have and the better the outcomes for the patient."
AAO's new guidelines state that those considered "at risk" -- for example persons with family histories of eye disease, who have diabetes, high blood pressure or other health problems, should have screenings every year. The organization hopes to help prevent five major eye diseases: age-related macular degeneration, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, dry eye and glaucoma. Each of the diseases has differing symptoms.
"Many systemic diseases such as diabetes, hypertension and cardiac disease increase the risk of developing eye disease," says Dr. Srivastava. "Those who are at especially at risk, including people with a history of diabetes, or family history of eye disease such as glaucoma or macular degeneration should be screened. Without question, as part of their regular care, diabetics should have a dilated eye exam performed at least yearly by an eye physician."
Dr. Srivastava says, "Often, patients with diabetic eye disease or glaucoma can have severe damage without any major symptoms. There are treatments available for many with eye disease, but we see better outcomes and better vision in those who we are able to treat early."
AAO estimates that each year, eye disease costs this country more than $50 billion. Medicare costs for indirect eye disease expenses (nursing care and assisted living facilities) are approximately $2 billion.
In addition to this becoming a financial burden, it also is a burden to the individual's way of life, notes the AAO. Making diagnoses early can help alleviate many of the financial and lifestyle issues we now have as a result of eye disease, says Dr. Srivastava.
The Emory Eye Center includes the Department of Ophthalmology, part of the Emory School of Medicine, its clinical sector and all aspects of research. Ranked in the top 15 of the U.S. News & World Report's annual survey of the nation's best eye centers, Emory Eye Center remains in the top ten of the peer-evaluated Ophthalmology Times survey. The South's first corneal transplant was performed in Georgia in 1947; its refractive surgery trials were conducted in the 1980s, and it remains at the forefront of many national clinical trials, including those on macular degeneration and glaucoma.