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Why An Early Glaucoma Screening Is Essential For Member Eye Health

By Deborah Lynn Blumberg | Aug 31, 2020

Glaucoma is a serious condition — however, getting a glaucoma screening early can prevent vision loss and make the effects easier to manage. As a union leader, it's crucial to educate your members on this condition and help protect their eyesight.

What Is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma describes not one but a whole group of conditions, all of which target the optic nerve at the back of the eye. It's also a top cause of blindness worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The Glaucoma Research Center reports that more than 3 million Americans are believed to have glaucoma. However, only about half of them are aware they have the disease. That's due in part to the fact that glaucoma leaves damage well before symptoms arise. Signs like minor loss of peripheral vision happen so gradually that they may go unnoticed.

Because glaucoma cannot be prevented, early detection is essential to address the effects of the condition before they lead to permanent vision loss. Getting a regular glaucoma screening allows a doctor to pick up on any subtle changes in the eye and detect signs of disease.

The Importance of Getting a Glaucoma Screening

For most adults, the American Optometric Association recommends such an exam at least every two years. People 65 and older and those predisposed to eye conditions should go in for a comprehensive exam at least annually.

A glaucoma screening is part of a comprehensive dilated eye exam in which a doctor uses eye drops to widen the pupils and get a better look inside the eye. During the exam, the doctor will conduct a series of tests, including measuring eye pressure, examining the optic nerve for damage, looking at how the eye drains fluids, measuring the thickness of the cornea and testing side vision. Patients may not be able to safely drive or work for a few hours afterward, as dilation can blur vision and cause light sensitivity.

Risk Factors and Treatment

Members should know if they're in a high-risk group, which the National Eye Institute describes as anyone who:

  • is over age 60
  • is African American
  • is a Hispanic or Latino over age 40
  • has a family history of glaucoma

Eye injuries, diabetes, high blood pressure and poor blood circulation can also be risk factors, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

If an expert does find signs of glaucoma during the screening, there are plenty of treatment options ranging from prescription eye drops to laser treatments that lower the pressure in the eye.

If glaucoma goes undetected and becomes serious, though, it can impact a member's ability to work. You can help ensure members have access to regular glaucoma screening and that they understand why they should take advantage of it.

How Vision Benefits Can Help

Most vision plans include coverage for an annual comprehensive eye exam. If members' plans do not include this benefit, you're in a position to advocate for a better, more comprehensive plan.

Some members may overlook regular eye exams as a part of standard preventive care, such as regular physicals, mammograms or colonoscopies. In fact, some may only visit an eye doctor for new contacts or glasses. If that's the case, you can communicate to members what their vision benefits include and how to use them.

Members may not realize a doctor can see early signs of glaucoma before they sense the symptoms. Consider mentioning the importance of vision screenings during open enrollment or discussing glaucoma with members as part of benefits-related communications and seminars — it's a way to take the long view on member health.