I spend the majority of my week working in the health field of ophthalmology. Day after day I work on people with various eye ailments for a prominent, dedicated glaucoma/cataract specialist in Williamsville. We see people of all walks of life, but the most disheartening are the ones who are going or have gone blind from glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a disease that painlessly robs a person's sight, slowly eating away at the peripheral vision until total vision is lost. The sad thing is that this serious eye disease is treatable and, if caught in the early stages, can be halted.
Glaucoma shows no economic boundaries; it will attack wealthy or poor, healthy or sick people of all ages. There are two reasons people lose their eyesight to glaucoma -- ignorance or lack of money.
There are thousands of people who don't really know what glaucoma is. Although there are many types of glaucoma, the most common one is painless. There are only subtle symptoms at first, peripheral vision loss. It can go unnoticed until the optic nerve becomes damaged and peripheral vision loss becomes permanent.
There are simple tests performed in a routine eye exam that screen for these findings. Testing eye pressure is a painless, simple way to detect if the pressure is too high for the eye to tolerate. Glaucoma also runs in family lines and is very prominent among African-Americans.
The second reason people go blind from glaucoma is lack of money. There are millions of people in our country who do not have health care benefits and cannot afford them. Their first and foremost priority is to feed their families and provide for them. Just getting through the month on a fixed income is challenge enough for them.
Routine health exams are not an option for them and preventive medicine is out of the question. They may know that they have glaucoma, but they choose to ignore it because they can't afford the medication needed to use on a daily basis to prevent vision loss.
People with insurance plans usually pay a co-pay for these drugs at the pharmacy; if you are unfortunate enough not to have insurance, the eye drops can range anywhere from $50 to $95 a bottle. There are also special laser treatments and surgeries that can treat the disease, but they are costly.
I have witnessed firsthand for many years how sad this can be for families; this is a huge problem in many countries. The United States is one of the richest countries of all but lacks provisions for the needy, homeless and poor. We need to find a better way to educate and provide for all walks of life.
It is so very unjust that educated and financially secure people have the upper hand on their health, when prevention can keep so many from failing health. Our congressmen need to make this problem a priority on their agenda and come up with new programs to provide for the needy.
Judith Whitehead is a certified ophthalmic technician with degrees in medical assisting and gerontology.