Glaucoma is a leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide, and cataract is another leading cause of vision loss. Researchers at the Department of Veterans Affairs recently released the results of two studies that show the rate of eye disease may be increasing in the VA system and that veterans with serious mental illness have a higher rate of eye diseases than other veterans.
The first study, published in General Hospital Psychiatry, concluded that VA patients with serious mental illness have a greater prevalence of diagnosed ocular disease, particularly cataract, glaucoma and dry eye. The researchers found that although these patients use eye care services, they don’t get the recommended annual eye examinations.
The second study, published in the American Journal of Ophthalmology, looked at all eligible veterans in the VA Capitol Health Care Network from 2007 to 2011. Researchers found ocular diagnoses increased from 20.5 percent in 2007 to 23.3 percent in 2011, a 13.7 percent increase. The prevalence of diagnosed cataract increased by 35.7 percent from 7.1 percent in 2007 to 9.6 percent in 2011, and diagnosed glaucoma prevalence increased by 9.4 percent from 6.7 to 7.4 percent.
To prevent major vision loss, VA patients, particularly those above the age of 55 and those in high-risk groups, should consider getting their eyes examined to screen for major eye diseases. Here are seven things most people don’t know about these common eye conditions.
- According to the National Eye Institute, more than 2.7 million Americans over age 40 have glaucoma — but they might not know it. It is generally a very slow disease, taking years or even decades to cause noticeable changes in vision.
- Getting a comprehensive dilated eye exam is the only way to catch glaucoma early. People at higher risk of glaucoma — African Americans over age 40, people over age 60 and people with a family history of glaucoma — should usually be examined every one to two years.
- Once glaucoma damages your optic nerve, lost vision cannot be restored. However, if the disease is caught early, treatment can prevent vision loss.
- You may not be able to prevent glaucoma, but serious eye injuries can lead to glaucoma, so wear eye protection when using power tools or playing high-speed racket sports on enclosed courts.
- The National Institutes of Health estimates that half of all people age 80 or older will have had cataract surgery or need cataract surgery.
- Cataracts can be removed with a relatively simple surgery that often takes 20 minutes or less.
- Wearing sunglasses and a hat with a brim to block ultraviolet sunlight may help to delay cataract, as will quitting smoking and eating green leafy vegetables, fruit and other foods with antioxidants.
Veterans who are visually impaired may be eligible for VA’s vision health benefits. VA’s vision care ranges from primary eye care services to intermediate and advanced clinical vision care, including clinical examinations, vision-enhancing devices and specialized training in the use of innovative vision technology.
VA also offers inpatient rehabilitation centers for veterans who are blind. These centers focus on enhancing skills such as communication, orientation and mobility, manual skills, and recreational and daily living activities.