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    B.C. optometrists warn blindness from glaucoma to rise

    Vancouver, April 22, 2010 – Blindness caused from glaucoma will rise dramatically if the B.C. government follows through on its decision to change regulations that are currently in place to protect the eye health of the public, says the B.C. Association of Optometrists.

    Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in Canada. About 123,000 British Columbians – three out of every 100 people in the province – have diagnosed glaucoma and thousands more have the disease but are unaware of the condition. Unlike many other diseases, glaucoma can strike with no early warning signs.

    Dr. Antoinette Dumalo, president of the B.C. Association of Optometrists, says optometrists routinely detect glaucoma in patients under the age of 65 before there are any noticeable symptoms or irreversible damage. But she’s worried that the B.C. government’s aim to deregulate eye-care will prevent early detection and lead to blindness in literally thousands of patients.

    “The provincial government’s proposed eye care regulations will put British Columbians at increased risk for vision loss because they will be able to obtain glasses and contact lenses without having a regular, comprehensive eye exam to detect eye diseases like glaucoma,” says Dr. Dumalo. “By the time a patient notices a vision change, the damage is done. Government members are willing to take that risk, but they’re not the ones who have to tell a patient that nothing can be done to bring back their vision. They’re not the ones referring people to CNIB.”

    In fact, the Canadian National Institute of the Blind reports that 4,700 British Columbians go blind each year, even though 75 per cent of vision loss is avoidable with prevention, early detection and treatment. In a letter to Minister of Health Service Kevin Falcon, the CNIB specifically expressed concern over undiagnosed glaucoma and urged the government to reconsider its proposed regulations “before it is too late to save the sight of many British Columbians.”

    Faculty and researchers at the University of Waterloo’s School of Optometry have condemned the B.C. government for failing to uncover, failing to consider and outright ignoring the scientific and medical evidence that show the true health risks of bypassing professional eye exams.

    Burnaby resident Sharlene Hayek had her first eye exam three years ago when she was 35 years old. She was taking in her children for their eye exams and had scheduled an appointment for herself, too. While Hayek had perfect vision, her optometrist detected glaucoma. No visual symptoms. No family history of glaucoma.

    “I was very upset and never thought someone my age could have glaucoma. The thought of losing my vision was devastating; however, I was extremely grateful to Dr. Kim for detecting it,” says Hayek. “The glaucoma would have gone undiagnosed for years, until it was affecting my vision. I would have lost the opportunity to slow it down. I have encouraged everyone I know to go for a regular eye exam, and as soon as they hear my story, they book an appointment.”

    Glaucoma, a disease of the optic nerve, is often associated with an increase in pressure within the eye. If left untreated, it can result in permanent nerve damage, complete loss of peripheral vision, and/or severe, unrelenting eye pain.

    Symptoms vary from no early warning signs in the case of primary open-angle glaucoma, to pain, blurred vision, and the appearance of coloured rings around lights in the case of acute angle-closure. The latter requires immediate attention. Glaucoma can occur at any age. While most victims are age 40 or older, 25 per cent of people are under the age of 50 when glaucoma first strikes.

    High risk factors include diabetes, extreme nearsightedness, previous eye surgery, family history and ethnicity. (People of Asian and African descent are more likely to develop glaucoma.) In most cases, when detected early – and the pressure in the eye is brought down with the use of medicated eye drops, surgery or a combination of both – no significant damage will occur and the disease will be fully controlled.

    Dr. Dumalo says many patients don’t even realize they have glaucoma until their vision starts failing. “Nearly half of the fibres of the nerve that conveys the sense of vision to the brain have to be lost before the first detectable change in vision is observed in glaucoma. Only a comprehensive eye exam with an optometrist or ophthalmologist can detect the condition before it causes permanent damage.”

    The association is asking British Columbians to speak out against the proposed regulations and share their personal examples of eye health problems detected by an optometrist at www.facebook.com/speakoutforeyehealth and by writing their MLAs. Full information on glaucoma, the proposed eye care changes, and how to get involved in contacting the government can be found online at www.whatcouldbemoreimportant.com and www.facebook.com/speakoutforeyehealth.

    Optometrists specialize in examining, diagnosing, treating, managing and preventing diseases and disorders of the visual system, the eye and related structures. Adults 19 to 64 should have an eye exam every two years. People with diabetes or age 65 or older should have an exam at least once a year.

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    Glaucoma patient case studies for reference or interview:

    • Surrey resident: 55-year-old Raj Sahota was diagnosed with glaucoma at the age of 49, as a result of an annual eye exam. She now receives ongoing treatment and is thankful she narrowly avoided complete vision loss.
    • Winfield resident: A routine optometrist visit to update his eyeglasses prescription led Winfield-based Norman Ferris to learn he had symptoms of glaucoma. Today, the 64-year-old is exploring long-term treatment of the condition and credits his early diagnosis with preserving his vision.

    • Victoria resident: Senga Simpson went in for a regular eye exam when her optometrist discovered the signs of glaucoma – although she had experienced no symptoms herself. The 62-year-old has since been diagnosed with glaucoma and is working with her optometrist to manage it.
    • Victoria resident: Sandy Cook, 51, is very passionate about the importance of regular eye exams because she knows she could have lost her sight without them. During a routine eye exam, her optometrist suspected something was wrong because her prescription had changed significantly in a small period of time. The optometrist referred Sandy to a specialist who diagnosed her with first stage of glaucoma. She now wants to do everything she can to educate people about the health risks involved with the B.C. government’s proposed new regulations.

    • Salt Spring Island resident: After gently being reminded by his wife to go in for a routine eye exam, Karl Meade was shocked when his optometrist suggested he get tested for glaucoma. He was later diagnosed with the condition and the 47-year-old is currently being treated for it.

    • Vancouver resident:During a regular eye exam with her optometrist, 60-year-old L.C. learned that her peripheral vision was decreasing and she was developing glaucoma. Thankfully, L.C. was diagnosed early enough that she has been able to treat the condition while enjoying all the benefits of 20/20 vision.

    • Summerland resident:After a car accident where she hit her head, 44-year-old Sheri Mahovlic was seeing stars. As part of her follow-up, Sheri visited her optometrist for a check-up during which she learned she had the symptoms of glaucoma. Today, Sheri is being treated for the condition but knows it would have been missed if she hadn’t gone to see an optometrist.
    • New Westminster resident:25-year-old Andrey Goulitchenko went in for a routine exam over two years ago, without expecting much. Instead, Andrey was surprised to learn he had all the signs and symptoms of glaucoma. He is currently being monitored as his condition progresses.
    • Richmond resident: Charlotte Diamond, 64, knows all about glaucoma after her father spent the last 20 years of his life blind from it. Concerned with her family history, Diamond made regular visits to an optometrist and learned she too had glaucoma. Today, Diamond remains under the close watch of her ophthalmologist to prevent further vision loss.

    • Richmond resident: Cindy Fox, 47, had been seeing her optometrist for years and, during her most recent visit her optometrist detected acute glaucoma. She had no symptoms that led her to believe she had a problem. However based on the results of her eye exams over the years, her optometrist suspected she could develop the condition and monitored her eyes closely. Her optometrist referred Cindy to a specialist who treated her condition with a laser procedure. Cindy now knows that she could have gone blind in a short period of time if her condition was not diagnosed when it was and feels confident that her eyes will be healthier in the future because of the diagnosis and speedy procedure.
    • Burnaby resident:
    • Sharlene Hayek had her first eye exam three years ago when she was 35 years old. She was taking in her children for their eye exams and scheduled an appointment to have her eyes checked too. While Hayek had perfect vision, her optometrist detected glaucoma. No visual symptoms. No family history of glaucoma. After her shocking diagnosis, Hayek had laser surgery, which has slowed the progression of the disease significantly.
    • Kelowna resident: Beverly Ryder, 56, went in for her routine eye exam, and her optometrist detected signs of glaucoma in her right eye. She had no symptoms whatsoever and was surprised by the findings. She is currently waiting to see a specialist now for further tests.
    • Courtenay resident: Sandra Caillet, 47, went in to have her eyes tested for glasses.She had never needed them before, or even had an eye exam before. During the eye exam, the optometrist detected low-pressure glaucoma and referred her to a number of specialists to confirm the diagnosis. Luckily for Sandra, her condition can be kept in check with eye drops.
    • Coquitlam resident: Vienne Lee, 46, thought her eyes were perfectly healthy until a routine exam with local optometrist Dr. Karim Mithani led to a diagnosis of glaucoma. Today, Lee is receiving ongoing treatment and is thankful her condition was caught early enough to avoid permanent vision loss. “I now realize how important your sight is,” says Lee. “Nothing can buy your vision back once you lose it.”
    • Burnaby resident: Pamela Quan, 50, glaucoma.

    Additional information available at http://www.whatcouldbemoreimportant.com/:

    For information, contact: Mahafrine Petigara or Rhonda Trenholm, media relations, 604.623.3007