VOICES: Vision screenings can help catch glaucoma in time for treatment

Published Saturday, March 5, 2005

VOICES: Vision screenings can help catch glaucoma in time for treatment

Mary Solomon, an employee of the Mayo Clinic, participated in the Employee Health Fair last year. Today, she is very grateful.

“I had my eyes checked and they told me my pressure was high [in my eyes] and I needed to see an eye doctor right away,” said Solomon, an Arlington resident. “I made an appointment and saw my eye doctor, who diagnosed me with glaucoma. He has me put one drop [of medication] in my eyes every night.”

Solomon has a family history of glaucoma. Glaucoma is a disease that steals a person’s sight, many times without warning. The vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. In Solomon’s case, this is a disease she shares with her mother and aunt. In fact, Solomon recalls: “My great-grandfather had glaucoma and he went blind from it. He didn’t even know why he lost his sight.”

The Vision Is Priceless Council is a non-profit organization dedicated to keeping Northeast Florida eyes healthy through prevention and early detection of eye conditions. VIP screens the vision of children and adults throughout the area for no charge. All services are funded through private donations and corporate sponsorships.

VIP has participated in the Mayo Clinic Employee Health Fair and many other corporate and community health fairs for several years. VIP vision screeners are no more pleased than when they receive confirmation that someone’s sight was saved, like Solomon’s.

“When we came back this year and Mary approached us, we were just tickled that last year’s screening helped identify her glaucoma,” said Lina Marie Thornton, a vision screener with VIP.

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, glaucoma is a disease that affects more than 3 million Americans, but only half of them are aware that they have the disease. In addition, African-Americans are at significantly greater risk for this disease than Caucasians, resulting in six to eight times more cases. And African-Americans ages 45-65 are 14 to 17 times more likely to go blind from glaucoma than Caucasians in the same age group.

The best way to fight these discrepancies is through early detection and proper treatment. Glaucoma is a disease that can be controlled and managed with medical care, but the key is detecting the disease in the first place.

“I’m so grateful to the Vision Is Priceless Council,” said Solomon, who is African-American. “Otherwise, I could have gone blind and not even known why.”

Glaucoma is the second-leading cause of blindness in the United States and the leading cause of preventable blindness. It is also the leading cause of blindness among African-Americans. There is more than one type of glaucoma, but the most common type is open angle glaucoma. With this type, there are virtually no symptoms, and vision loss begins with peripheral or side vision and may not even be noticed until a significant amount of vision has been lost.

With many employers, such as Mayo Clinic, more corporate health fairs are providing access to simple health screenings such as vision, hearing, cholesterol, blood pressure and more. These services are an excellent way for corporations and small businesses to supplement employee benefits at low or no cost. In fact, VIP is pleased to schedule vision screenings at area businesses.

“The vision screening is really a good service,” said Solomon. “A lot of people don’t have the time to stop for the screenings, but if they would just take the time, it could impact their lives.”

VIP screens the vision of nearly 100,000 children and adults every year by visiting private and parochial schools, major office complexes, libraries, shopping centers, fire stations, community centers and many other places throughout the area.

The non-profit Vision Is Priceless Council works to preserve the vision of Northeast Florida residents through programs such as free screening and early detection of potential eye disease. For more information, call 308-2020 or visit Jacksonville.com, keywords: vision is priceless.

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