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Government Initiative Brings Vision Loss Into Focus

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Take glaucoma, for instance. "Glaucoma is silent," Pronesti says. "Once you begin to notice that you can't see well, it's way too late, and there's almost nothing you can do at that point."

Early vision loss from glaucoma, he explains, affects tiny pinpoint areas of peripheral vision. These are not usually noticeable to patients, but screening machines that map the side vision can pick up these early losses.

Another serious eye problem is diabetic retinopathy, a very serious disease that affects the retina in people with diabetes; left unchecked, it can lead to blindness. People who have diabetes for longer than 5 years have a more than 50% chance of developing diabetic retinopathy. People with diabetes need regular eye exams and if problems are detected, they need to step up the frequency of those office visits.

Prevention and early treatment are most important for everyone. Davis tells WebMD that one of the goals is a quality of life issue, since vision loss often has a direct effect on how people function day-to-day. People need to be aware of programs, screening, treatments, and devices that can help them see better. Low vision devices designed for people nearly blinded by age-related macular degeneration, a disease that affects the central part of the retina, can help these people read again. But, many people -- including physicians -- don't know that these devices exist.

Public awareness campaigns and free community screenings are the types of programs that often grow out of the Healthy People initiative, Davis says. "What we're hoping to do is to have the organizations that are already established come up with ideas on how to communicate with people better about treatment availability and the means to improve vision," he says. "In many cases, once you've lost your vision, that's it. It cannot be restored."

Vital Information:

  • The NIH now includes healthy vision as one of its objectives in the Healthy People 2010 initiative, calling visual impairment one of the 10 most frequent causes of disability.
  • The Healthy People initiative seeks to establish national programs and campaigns to raise public awareness about important health issues.
  • Screening is a crucial step in preserving vision, because once deterioration occurs, it often cannot be reversed.
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