Veterans: What You Need to Know About Glaucoma and Cataracts


By Debbie Gregory.

Two recent studies reveal that the rate of eye disease may be increasing in the VA system.

One study showed that VA patients with serious mental illness have an even higher rate of dry eye, cataract and glaucoma than the general veteran population. Both glaucoma and cataract are leading causes of blindness worldwide.

The other study found that the rate of eye disease, specifically glaucoma and cataract, increased in veterans 50 years old and up.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases in which the optic nerve, a bundle of over 1 million nerves that convey vision from the eye to the brain, slowly becomes damaged over time. In many cases, blood flow to the optic nerve is reduced, and may be further reduced by increased fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rising, leading to vision loss or even blindness. Glaucoma usually starts without any symptoms.

Because there are no symptoms of the disease early on, eye screening is needed to detect it. However, if the disease is caught early, treatment can prevent vision loss.

African-American Veterans should especially get their eyes checked regularly as glaucoma is six-to-eight times more common in African-Americans than Caucasians. Also, among Hispanic populations, Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness.

Cataracts happen when the lens of the eye becomes cloudy over time. This happens in all individuals with aging, and it is estimated that half of all people age 80 or older will have had cataract surgery or need cataract surgery.

Cataract symptoms include blurriness of vision at distance, or glare that may be most bothersome when driving at night. Diabetics or those on long-term steroids for medical conditions may develop cataracts earlier in life. Cataracts can be removed with a relatively simple surgery that often takes 20 minutes or less.

VA patients, particularly those in high-risk groups, should get eye exam screenings to identify any eye problems as early as possible.

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