Local Eye MDs urge readers to learn about the 3 leading causes of vision loss in Latinos

By Cheryl L. Dejewski

Cinco de Mayo is a time to commemorate and take pride in Mexican heritage and culture. That heritage, however, comes with health-related concerns that can raise the risk for certain medical conditions, including ones that can steal your sight. The doctors at Eye Care Specialists ophthalmology practice offer the following information to help ensure that you can see and enjoy many more holidays to come.

“Loss of vision can have serious consequences that can affect your quality of life and independence, including an increased risk for falling, car accidents, depression, isolation, and other unpleasant concerns. Failing sight can also increase the need for home care or nursing home placement. And, the risk for permanently losing your vision is the same–whether you are in denial, just don’t notice, or actually have no symptoms,” explains Daniel Paskowitz, MD, PhD, of Eye Care Specialists, an ophthalmology practice that has served the Latino community since 1985.

Michael Raciti, MD, an eye surgeon who conducts educational lectures for health care providers, adds, “Poor vision is not a fact of life as you grow older. It’s important to discover what’s behind any changes or symptoms—whether it’s simply the need for a new eyeglass prescription or something more serious like a vision-threatening eye condition.” Both Paskowitz and Raciti agree that early diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to prevent vision loss. They and their partners offer the following overview of the three leading causes of vision loss in Latinos.

DIABETIC EYE DISEASE 

Hispanic-Americans have a higher risk of developing diabetes. Whether or not the cause is due to lifestyle (poor diet, lack of exercise), genetics or both, be aware: Diabetes does more than affect blood sugar levels. Without proper precautions, fluctuating and high blood sugar levels can cause the blood vessels that nourish the retina in the back of the eye to become weak or abnormal. This leads to leakage and bleeding that can blur vision and permanently rob a person of their sight. Many people, however, don’t notice a problem until permanent damage is already done. That’s why annual dilated eye exams are crucial—especially if you are Latino, which puts you at a three times greater risk of losing vision to diabetes than a white person.

“For patients who are diagnosed with diabetic eye disease, our practice has had excellent results with medications that are painlessly injected (every 4-12 weeks) into the eye to inhibit the growth of the abnormal blood vessels related to diabetic retinopathy. These medications (Avastin, Eylea and Lucentis) have been able to stabilize and sometimes even improve vision,” reports Brett Rhode, a partner at Eye Care Specialists and the Head of Ophthalmology at Aurora Sinai Medical Center.

GLAUCOMA

Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness especially for Hispanic or Latino Americans—who have at least a 4 times higher risk rate. Despite this fact, more than 76 percent are unaware that their ethnicity puts them at greater risk.

“Glaucoma is a sight-robbing condition (often related to increased fluid pressure in the eye) that causes progressive damage to the optic nerve, which carries visual information from the retina to the brain. Left untreated, glaucoma can cause permanent loss of side vision and eventually all sight. Glaucoma usually does NOT present symptoms. As such, regular eye exams are vital to catching it early and preventing vision loss,” explains Mark Freedman, MD, an ophthalmologist with 34 years of experience treating virtually every eye condition.

Glaucoma is usually treated with daily use of prescription drops to decrease fluid production in or increase fluid drainage out of the eye. “In cases where drops alone cannot control the pressure, side effects are intolerable, or multiple types of drops are required, laser treatment (SLT or ECP) or Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgery (MIGS) procedures may be an alternative. These take just minutes to perform and are typically covered by Medicare and most insurances. They also offer the possibility of reducing or eliminating the burden of buying and taking daily glaucoma drops,” says Daniel Ferguson, MD, an eye surgeon who performs advanced laser and surgical procedures to alleviate glaucoma-related eye pressure.

CATARACTS

Cataracts are a leading cause of treatable vision loss in Latinos. Despite this threat, most people don’t know the facts about cataracts until they are “eye-to-eye” with one.

“A cataract is NOT a film or growth on the eye. It is a clouding of the eye’s natural lens located inside the eye behind the pupil. It typically occurs as part of the aging process. Six out of 10 people over age 60 have some form of cataract. Symptoms include blurriness, sensitivity to glare, halos around lights, and new glasses not improving vision,” explains David Scheidt, OD, an optometrist who performs pre- and post-operative care for cataract patients.

The only effective treatment for cataracts is to make a very tiny opening in the eye, surgically remove the cloudy lens (cataract), and replace it with an intraocular lens implant (IOL) to once again focus light rays onto the retina for crisp vision. Patients are back home within just hours and are able to resume most normal activities. Cataract surgery is covered by Medicare as well as state and most insurances.

VISION PROTECTION TIPS

n Get regular eye checkups because eye diseases don’t always have symptoms. Latino and Hispanic-Americans should get a comprehensive dilated eye exam at least once every two years. If you have diabetes, you need an eye exam at least once a year. Ask your doctor how often you should have your eyes checked.

n Protect your eyes from the sun with sunglasses and a hat.

n Avoid smoking and excessive alcohol intake.

n Control your blood pressure and blood sugar.

n Eat a balanced diet high in healthy nutrients (like fruits and green leafy vegetables) and low in fat and sugar.

FREE BOOKLETS & INFORMATION

Eye Care Specialists’ doctors are dedicated to providing the finest cataract, glaucoma, and diabetic eye disease care. They frequently lecture to the public and fellow physicians and have written their own series of booklets on these conditions. Call 414-321-7035 for FREE copies or to schedule an appointment for a thorough eye screening (usually covered by insurance or Medicare) at their offices on 7th & Wisconsin Avenue in downtown Milwaukee, 102nd & National Avenue in West Allis, or across from Mayfair Mall in Wauwatosa. They also offer extensive information about common eye diseases and their own credentials at www.eyecarespecialists.net.