|Christopher J. Babin, OD, and Charlene Walton, OD, are members of Optometric Physicians of Washington and two of 18,000 doctors listed on the Think About Your Eyes online locator. Think About Your Eyes is a nationwide public awareness initiative promoting the importance of an annual eye exam and overall vision health. First Vision Media Group (publisher of Optometric Office) supports Think About Your Eyes as a media partner and provides space for this monthly Guest Editorial.|
Glaucoma currently affects three million Americans, but fewer than half know they have it. As it commonly affects patients over the age of 60, that number will only increase as Baby Boomers continue to age. Are we, as optometrists, doing enough to educate our patients about this disease?
The key to being advocates for our patients’ eye health is communication. Patients are trusting us with their most precious sense””their window to the world. Glaucoma is a threat to that window because even though it starts gradually, if left untreated progressive damage to the optic nerve will occur and rob our patients of their vision. It’s our duty to ensure we’re having the right conversations so that patients are educated about their risks.
Try to develop an accurate perspective of a patient’s entire health picture. Review the patient’s medical history and identify risk factors, which include family history of glaucoma, thin corneas, heritage (African-American and Latino patients are at a higher risk), history of eye injury and increased intraocular pressure. Ask about systemic issues that are potential contributors, including diabetes, high blood pressure and migraines, and ensure that the patient is also aware that they need to update you on any changes to their systemic health.
The most common and dangerous misconception about vision health among the public is that if there’s no pain, their eyes must be healthy. While the patient may not physically feel the symptoms of glaucoma, remind them that you are monitoring their optic nerves and intraocular pressures as part of their annual eye exam, highlighting the importance of being checked at least annually.
Many patients who have glaucoma can think that blindness is inevitable, but this isn’t true. Between medications and surgery, we have a number of options that can slow or stop the progression of the disease in order to prevent blindness.
What else is true: Glaucoma can be a frightening diagnosis. It’s the responsibility of optometrists to build a trusting and open relationship with patients so a strong line of communication exists. The best way to do this is to encourage patients to schedule eye exams annually. Encouraging patients to receive an annual eye exam is the main message of Think About Your Eyes, the public awareness campaign for the vision industry.