Task force joins AOA in urging dilated eye exams for glaucoma detection

"This is another advocacy win by optometry, and further recognition of our profession's leadership role in safeguarding the health and well-being of the American people."

Anyone at risk for glaucoma should have regular comprehensive dilated eye examinations, according to a new report by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF). Screening is not sufficient to spot the disease, particularly in its early stages when prompt care can help limit vision loss.

"The USPSTF recommendation regarding glaucoma screening for asymptomatic Americans in the primary care setting reaffirms the clear message that AOA doctors have been delivering to policymakers and the medical community for many years," said Mitchell T. Munson, O.D., American Optometric Association (AOA) president.

The USPSTF report also reflects input from the AOA Advocacy Group. 

"This is another advocacy win by optometry, and further recognition of our profession's leadership role in safeguarding the health and well-being of the American people," Dr. Munson added.

Screening is not enough

Common screening programs for glaucoma check for only one sign: elevated intraocular pressure. But that sign is not always associated with the sight-threatening eye disease, and there are often individual differences in normal eye pressure. On top of that, most people with glaucoma do not have symptoms.

"In contrast, a comprehensive dilated exam looks at the back of the eye to detect subtle changes of the optic nerve in patients without any visual symptoms, thereby potentially leading to early detection of the disease," the report notes.  

Early detection can lead to early treatment, which is crucial for keeping visual field defects from getting worse and preserving vision. In line with AOA recommendations, the government task force recommends comprehensive dilated eye exams every one to two years for people who are at higher risk for glaucoma. These include African-Americans and Hispanics age 40 and older, everyone over age 60, and those with a family history of glaucoma.

Dr. Munson pointed out that regular comprehensive eye exams, provided by optometrists or ophthalmologists, are the only way to identify specific diseases in both symptomatic and asymptomatic patients. "Unlike many screenings, which typically target a specific disease or visual condition and tend to do so rather poorly, comprehensive dilated eye examinations are the standard designed to diagnose a more complete spectrum of eye diseases and vision conditions-and have been shown to do so nearly 100 percent of the time," Dr. Munson said.

Get more information about glaucoma from the AOA and the National Eye Institute.

July 16, 2013

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