Make a New Year’s resolution to find out if you do.

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month! As you plan for a healthier 2016, why not add this sight-saving exercise to your list of resolutions: Get a comprehensive dilated eye exam. It’s the only way to find out for sure whether you have glaucoma, one of the leading causes of blindness in America.

An eye disease that can rob you of your vision, glaucoma often comes with no early warning. No pain. No discomfort. No blurry vision. Nearly 3 million people have glaucoma, yet half don’t know they have it.

Glaucoma starts with a buildup of fluid that increases the pressure in your eye and can cause damage tothe optic nerve, the bundle of nerve fibers that transfers visual images to your brain. Glaucoma first affects your peripheral, or side, vision. As the disease advances, more noticeable vision loss will occur, and if not controlled, the disease can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness.

You can take action to protect yourself from glaucoma.

“If glaucoma is detected in its early stages, pressure can be controlled through medication or surgery, and the progression of the disease can be delayed,” says Dr. Paul Sieving, director of the National Eye Institute (NEI). “Early detection by having a comprehensive dilated eye exam every one to two years is key to protecting vision, especially if you are at higher risk.”

Are you at higher risk for glaucoma? You could be if you:

- Are African American and age 40 or older

- Are over age 60, especially if you are Hispanic/Latino

- Have a family history of the disease

Everyone at higher risk should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam, which is different from the basic eye exam for glasses. A comprehensive dilated eye exam is a procedure in which an eye care professional places drops in your eyes to widen the pupil and looks at the optic nerve for signs of the disease.

This year, make a resolution for healthier vision. Make sure your eyes are healthy and you are seeing your best in 2016. Schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam and encourage your friends and loved ones to do the same.

To learn more about glaucoma, view this animated video. For tips on finding an eye care professional and for information on financial assistance, visit www.nei.nih.gov/glaucoma or call NEI at 301-496-5248.

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What you should know during AMD Awareness Month

The macula is made up of millions of light-sensitive cells that provide sharp detailed central vision. It is the most sensitive part of the retina, which is located at the back of the eye.

The retina quickly turns light into electrical signals and then sends these electrical signals to the brain through the optic nerve. Next, the brain translates the electrical signals into images we see. If the macula is damaged, fine points in these images are not clear. The picture is there, but the fine points are lost. Remember, anyone over age 50 is at risk for AMD.

Increased risks include: family history, race (Caucasians are at much higher risk than people of African descent), and smoking (research shows that smoking increases risk twofold).

For more information on AMD, contact:
POB at 202-234-1010, or visit the National Eye Institute (NEI) website at www.nei.nih.gov.

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Sunday, Feb. 28, 1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m., Sibley Medical Building

Hear celebrated retina expert Emily Chew, M.D.

FACT: “Dry” age-related macular degeneration (AMD) affects 80 to 90 percent of people with AMD. Celebrate “AMD Awareness Month” with Emily Chew, M.D., lead investigator of the landmark AREDS2 vitamin study and Deputy Clinical Director at the National Eye Institute (NEI), National Institutes of Health (NIH). She will discuss current dry AMD research initiatives and provide the latest thinking on protecting existing sight. This special event at Sibley Medical Building is Sunday, Feb. 28 at 1:30 p.m. in the first-floor Conference Room 2.

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STAGES OF “Dry AMD”

Do you know that dry AMD tends to progress more slowly than the wet type?

In dry age-related macular degeneration, there are various stages of AMD: early, intermediate, and advanced. Understanding the stages of dry AMD is important when considering eye vitamin supplements. In early dry AMD, small white or yellowish deposits called drusen form on the retina beneath the macula, causing it to deteriorate or degenerate over time.

Drusen are the “hallmark” of dry AMD. Typically, when drusen first form, they don’t cause vision loss. However, they are a risk factor for progressing to vision loss. Remember, AMD can occur in one or both eyes. Call your ophthalmologist ASAP if blurring or increased blurring in central vision occurs.

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Another reason to worry about climate change: Expanding areas of arid land, air pollution, and greater exposure to ultraviolet (UV) radiation all present potential health hazards to your eyes, according to Sheila West, Ph.D., vice chair for research at the Wilmer Eye Institute, Johns Hopkins University. In October, West discussed these hazards at a symposium on the health consequences of climate change.

The tissues at the front of the eye – the cornea, eye lid, the white part called the sclera, and even the lens – are all exposed to the environment. Adverse environmental changes may therefore have deleterious effects on the eye, West said at the symposium, which was sponsored by the NIH Global Health Interest group. The National Eye Institute also contributed to the event.

Regions of arid land are expanding as rising temperatures and shifting atmospheric circulation patterns force dry air into regions that had previously seen more rain. Drier air means that more people may be likely to suffer from dry eye symptoms, in which tears aren’t produced properly or evaporate too quickly.

While there’s no evidence that drier conditions cause dry eye, “it can accelerate symptoms in people who are prone to dry eye. As we see these areas [of drought] spread we are liable to see people who are prone to dry eye, but who may not be symptomatic, go on to develop symptoms,” West said.

In the U.S., about $3.8 billion is spent annually treating dry eye. Those expenditures are likely to increase as the areas with rising temperatures and increasingly arid conditions expand.

Another consequence of climate change is an increased burden of airborne particles that can irritate the eye. Air pollution has long been linked to respiratory disorders; more recently it’s been shown to play a role in eye disease, West said. Drought conditions, now increasingly seen as a consequence of climate change, can prolong the fire season from naturally occurring fires, which emit irritants into the air. As an example of how these fire emissions affect the eye, West pointed to the use of intentional fires set for crop clearing. “We’re seeing more ocular exposure to irritants in the air in these farmland areas,” she said.

West‘s own research has shown that exposure to wood or charcoal cooking fires ubiquitous in many developing countries appears to accelerate the scarring caused by trachoma, the leading infectious cause of blindness worldwide. Trachoma is caused by the bacterium Chlamydia trachomatis, which is spread through direct contact with an infected eye, or to nasal fluids. Recurrent infections over a lifetime lead to scarring inside of the eyelids, which in turn causes the eyelashes to turn inward and brush against the cornea, eventually resulting in damage that impairs vision.

By studying women living in areas of rural Africa where trachoma is endemic, West found that after adjusting for other factors that may contribute to trachoma scarring, the more time the women spent cooking over wood burning stoves, the more likely they were to have moderate to severe scarring of the eyelid.

On another front, ozone depletion can lead to higher levels of UV light exposure, which is a known risk factor for cortical cataract. Chronic exposure to the sun’s damaging rays can alter the orderly arrangement of proteins in the lens of the eye, or damage lens epithelium, causing the lens to become cloudy.

Efforts such as the Montreal Protocol, an international treaty aimed at phasing out the production of ozone-depleting substances, may help reduce UV levels, “but that may not occur until the middle of the century,” West said. Even with the Protocol’s measures, West and her colleagues estimated that by 2050, rising UV exposure will lead to an additional 150,000 to 200,000 cases of cataract – over and above the expected number associated with aging. West estimates that $1.1 billion will be spent on care and surgical treatment of these additional cases.

The good news is that these estimates are based on assumptions of how much UV actually reaches the lens of the eye, a controllable risk factor. Wearing a hat can reduce UV exposure by 30 percent. Sunglasses, even simple plastic lenses that offer full UV protection, can reduce exposure by nearly 100 percent.

Source: National Eye Institute (NEI)

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John, a member of POB's Stargardt's Network

About 16 years ago, John was told by his ophthalmologist that he would lose his vision to a condition called Stargardt’s disease, an inherited disorder of the retina that causes a loss of central vision, or macular degeneration, often during childhood or adolescence. In the last few years in particular, his vision has deteriorated significantly.

John learned about the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington® (POB) and its Stargardt’s Network through an acquaintance who was also struggling with the disorder, and he began attending the monthly support group meetings. He says that each time he attends, he not only walks away with information about useful tools and resources for individuals with low vision, but he walks away motivated to face the challenges of his vision loss head-on.

“My involvement has helped me stay motivated to not get down, to stay positive, and to learn what other tools are out there. … I learn something every month. I walk away, I come home, and I tell my wife, ‘I feel so much better because I learned this,’ and it’s uplifting.”

Perhaps you also know what it is like to face vision loss – to have challenges with daily tasks such as reading the mail, shopping, cooking and writing. Or perhaps you have a loved one who is living with low vision as a result of macular degeneration, glaucoma or another common eye disease. Maybe you can only imagine what it would be like to lose your sight and how that would affect your life and your independence.

Staff and volunteers at POB work not only to prevent the needless loss of sight, but to empower those with vision loss to make the most of what sight they have. They help members of the community cope with vision loss through monthly support and resource share groups, and retain their independence through personalized vision rehabilitation at the Low Vision Learning Center. This support is invaluable to so many who may otherwise feel helpless in the face of vision loss.

In the next 15 years, as the baby boomer population ages, the number of Americans living with low vision is expected to increase by 72 percent – from 2.9 million to almost 5 million people. The need for these services is greater than ever and growing.

As POB moves into its 80th year serving this community, you can support local vision programs so that more individuals like John can find help in the face of vision loss, and so that thousands of others can benefit from POB’s free vision screenings and eye exams, receive affordable eyeglasses, and take advantage of our many sight-saving services.

Give the gift of sight this holiday season! Please consider making a donation online at youreyes.org/donate.

Happy Holidays!

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Many of you may know that radio personality and POB friend Ed Walker passed away on Oct. 26. Only two short years ago, Ed was invited by POB to speak at a Vision Support Lunch & Learn holiday event at Friendship Heights Village Center in Chevy Chase. Chevy Chase had been his home with his family and wife Nancy for “too many years to count,” Ed said. Ed and Nancy had just moved to a lovely senior living community once they both started facing numerous aging challenges.

As many of you may know, Ed was born “totally blind,” and he worked hard to not let his blindness get in the way of his becoming an award-winning radio personality. Ed was a very humble man. When we asked him to speak about “change,” he laughed and doubted anyone would think that very interesting. What he didn’t think about at that time was that much of the audience was going to be at the stage in life where they, too were looking at housing alternatives as they aged with the threat of vision loss. He opened up about how differently his life had become since the move to a high-rise building where nobody spoke in the elevators – it reminded him of what “blind” once felt like. Ed solved that “problem” by asking, like an announcer, when he entered elevators in his new home – “Anyone in here?”

For those of us at the Prevention of Blindness Society of Metropolitan Washington who got to know Ed as an Honorary Board Member, a loyal listener, or friend – we are all richer because he was here. In recognition of all that he contributed in making the world better for people with profound vision loss, POB is holding a Vision Support Lunch & Learn program on Thursday, Dec. 10 at Friendship Heights Village Center, where we will remember and discuss the topic – “Courtesies Toward People who are Vision Impaired.”

We have a lot of quiet elevators here, Ed, where people do not talk! Maybe we can help change that for you.

Learn more about the December event, “Courtesies Toward People who are Vision Impaired.

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The upcoming holiday season presents opportunities for travel to be with family and friends. However, for those who are visually impaired, even a short flight or a bus ride can feel overwhelming and stressful.

Proper planning can alleviate many difficulties, such as getting through security to the right airport gate, boarding a train, managing money and credit cards, and making sure all of one’s belongings arrive safely. At the Macular Degeneration Network on Sunday, Dec. 13, learn from Gail Snider, independent travel advocate, about suggestions and tips to ensure that your trip is safe and enjoyable.

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ShumateA special meeting of the Low Vision Resource Group will be held at Charles E. Beatley, Jr. Central Library, Thursday, Dec. 10, 1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. to welcome LaToya Shumate, Vision Rehabilitation Therapist and Orientation and Mobility Specialist.

Ms. Shumate works at the Virginia Department for the Blind and Vision Impaired (DBVI). DBVI is an agency of the Commonwealth of Virginia and is dedicated to its mission of providing services and resources which empower Virginians, of all ages, who are experiencing significant visual disabilities to achieve their desired levels of personal independence.

Don’t miss this opportunity to set new goals for 2016 with the KNOWLEDGE to be gained from this program.

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If you have been told “nothing more can be done with regular corrective eyeglasses, contact lenses, medicine or surgery,” you likely have low vision. Don’t panic! There are many resources that can provide help. If you are having difficulty learning to live with vision changes, a support group can be a great source of information and guidance.

POB groups provide opportunities to learn how other people are coping with sight loss and information about resources that will help you learn how to do old things in new ways. If your eye doctor has indicated that you could progressively lose more sight, POB programs are designed to help you get prepared. You may need to learn about new skills and technology for daily living. Many people with low vision don’t know that help is available.

Know that much of what has to be done to keep your quality of life must be done by you but POB wants you to know – you are not alone! We understand that losing even a small part of your sight can be devastating, but know this: YOU CAN MAKE THE MOST OF IMPAIRED SIGHT!

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Sunday, November 15, 1:30 p.m. – 3 p.m. Sibley Medical Building

In this age of information, there is no shortage of diabetes related books, cookbooks, websites and magazines. Unfortunately, information about diabetes is not always credible. How do you decide that the information you read or hear about is safe and reliable? Fortunately you don’t have to do this by yourself.

Meet Sibley’s Rosemary Oshinsky, MSN, RN, CDE, (Certified Diabetic Educator), who can help you understand what is going on inside your body, and focus on healthy eating, being active, monitoring taking medication, problem solving, healthy coping and reducing risks.

This special event is co-sponsored with POB’s Aging Eye/Macular Degeneration Network and Sibley Senior Association. Free parking and “healthy” refreshments will be available.

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