Effort to provide free glaucoma tests could benefit people at high risk for the disease who otherwise might not seek eye care

Screenings in sight

January 24, 2008|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,Sun reporter

Many people in Baltimore are at risk for the eye disease glaucoma, and a coalition of public and private health care providers and organizations plans to offer free screenings to find those with the condition and help them get treatment.

About 70 million people worldwide and 3 million Americans have glaucoma, which can cause blindness. But only about half know, according to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, one of the groups sponsoring the screenings that begin Tuesday.

The other groups participating in "The Eyes Have It," created by the nonprofit Polakoff Foundation, whose aim is to fight the disease, are the city Health Department, Maryland Society for Sight, Maryland Optometric Association, Anne Arundel Eye Center and Krieger Eye Institute at Sinai Hospital.

FOR THE RECORD - An article in yesterday's Health Today section incorrectly said glaucoma screenings would be offered at Bon Secours Hospital. The free screenings will be at Bon Secours Urban Medical Institute, 2600 Liberty Heights Ave., Baltimore.
THE SUN REGRETS THE ERROR

The launch coincides with National Glaucoma Awareness Month, and the screenings will continue throughout the year - and potentially indefinitely. No appointments are necessary, and while the program is focused on Baltimore residents, no documentation of residency, insurance or legal status will be checked.

The first screening will be at Krieger Eye Institute, and subsequent screenings will be held at Good Samaritan Hospital, Bon Secours Hospital and Harbor Hospital.

Dr. Samuel Boles, a glaucoma specialist and cataract surgeon at Anne Arundel Eye Center, is recruiting other volunteer doctors for the screenings and has 15 or 20 so far.

He said such a program is greatly needed in Baltimore, which has several groups of residents at high risk for glaucoma. They include those with a family history of the disease, those older than 60, African-Americans older than 40, those of Hispanic origin and diabetics. Trauma to the eye can also cause glaucoma.

Typically, glaucoma occurs in about 1 percent to 3 percent of the general population, but is probably closer to 3 percent to 6 percent of the target population, Boles said. He estimated that one in 10 people who come for the local screenings would need a follow-up exam, to rule out the disease, or follow-up treatment. Organizers are expecting up to 200 people a day for the screenings.

"For some people, getting checked is a big deal," Boles said. "People say they don't want to know. You worry people who really need it won't come, and that's why we're appealing to the city, clergy and local and regional neighborhood leaders to spread the word."

He said the screenings could bring peace of mind to some without the disease. Early detection could also mean easier treatment, such as eye drops, and not surgery. Vision loss could also be prevented.

Samuel R. Polakoff, chairman of the Polakoff Foundation, launched the effort to create awareness of the disease and get help to those who need it. The Eyes Have It program will help low-income, uninsured residents find care at little or no cost.

Polakoff, president of TBB Global Logistics in New Freedom, Pa., founded his Forest Hill-based foundation with his wife in 2006 after he was diagnosed with glaucoma. His disease was diagnosed in the early stages, and treatment prevented him from losing his sight.

"Many people with glaucoma do not know that they have the disease because it destroys eyesight without any pain or warning signs," he said. "However, glaucoma can be a treatable condition if caught early enough. The free screenings that we are providing will go a long way in the effort to fight glaucoma."

For more information on the screenings, call 410-601-7295 or go to fightglaucoma.org.

meredith.cohn@baltsun.com

Free eye screenings

TUESDAY

Krieger Eye Institute at Sinai Hospital, 2411 W. Belvedere Ave.

When: 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

FEB. 26

Good Samaritan Hospital, 5601 Loch Raven Blvd.

When: 9 a.m.-1 p.m.

MARCH 24

Bon Secours Hospital, 2000 W. Baltimore St.

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

APRIL 10

Harbor Hospital, 3001 S. Hanover St.

When: 3 p.m.-7 p.m.

MAY 13

Krieger Eye Institute at Sinai Hospital, 2411 W. Belvedere Ave.

When: 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

JUNE 14

Good Samaritan Hospital, 5601 Loch Raven Blvd.

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

JULY 14

Bon Secours Hospital, 2000 W. Baltimore St.

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

AUG. 14

Harbor Hospital, 3001 S. Hanover St.

When: 3 p.m.-7 p.m.

SEPT. 23

Krieger Eye Institute at Sinai Hospital, 2411 W. Belvedere Ave.

When: 4:30 p.m.-7:30 p.m.

OCT. 14

Good Samaritan Hospital, 5601 Loch Raven Blvd.

When: 4 p.m.-8 p.m.

NOV. 10

Bon Secours Hospital, 2000 W. Baltimore St.

When: 10 a.m.-2 p.m.

DEC. 4

Harbor Hospital, 3001 S. Hanover St.

When: 3 p.m.-7 p.m.

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