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Glaucoma screenings prevent blindness

OU-COM program serves uninsured in Southeastern Ohio 

Third-year osteopathic student, Richard Mahon, administers a glaucoma screening in Kilvert
last January.

By Richard Heck
Jan. 30, 2009

A program provided by the Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine (OU-COM) Community Health Programs screens for glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness in adults.

So far, the year-long Student Sight Savers Program has provided nearly 200 individual free glaucoma screenings in the region. OU-COM students conduct the screenings under the supervision of optometrists and ophthalmologists.

“The Student Sight Savers program is aimed particularly for the underserved, underinsured and uninsured residents of Southeastern Ohio,” says Missy Kemper, assistant director of OU-COM’s Areas Health Education Center and Community Health programs (CHP).

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, more than 3 million Americans have glaucoma, over half of whom are unaware they have it. Although treatable, glaucoma can lead to blindness, but the gradual vision loss with glaucoma often goes unnoticed.

“Glaucoma has no early symptoms, so people may have the disease and don’t know it,” says Susan Quinn, O.D., who coordinates the program’s student and physician volunteers. “It’s a chronic disease, and if it’s diagnosed, patients need to be seen regularly. They need regular testing and sometimes surgery to make sure the disease is well controlled,” she said.

Glaucoma is caused by a build up of eye fluids. The resulting increase in pressure damages the optic nerve, leading to vision loss and, if untreated, blindness. Symptoms include a gradual blurring of vision, which can progress to tunnel vision or seeing halos around lights, especially at night.

Although people of any age can develop glaucoma, the eye disease typically afflicts adults over the age of 50, especially African Americans, diabetics, those with extreme nearsightedness or eye damage and those with a family history of the disease.

The Student Sight Savers screenings take place at churches, community centers and other locations. Recent screenings were held at the Goodworks homeless shelter in Athens and the Lottridge Community Center in Athens County, says Kemper, who warns that these screenings are not meant to replace a full eye exam.

If signs of glaucoma or other eye problems are detected during the CHP screenings, the individual is encouraged to follow up with an optometrist or ophthalmologist. Uninsured individuals are directed to free resources.

The next screening is scheduled at the senior center in Belpre on
Feb. 27.

To learn more about the screenings, or to inquire about hosting one of the events, contact Missy Kemper at OU-COM Community Health Programs at (740) 593-2432.

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Last updated: 01/28/2016