The main causes of vision loss in the black community remain a threat, even during a pandemic



By Cheryl L. Dejewski

“People need to realize that concerns about endangering eyesight have not taken hold during the pandemic. Problems can evolve and have serious consequences for your quality of life and your independence, including an increased risk of falls, car accidents, depression, isolation and the need for home care or foster care. retirement. And the risk of vision loss is the same whether you have no symptoms, whether you are in denial or just don’t notice it, ”says Daniel Paskowitz, MD, PhD, of Eye Care Specialists, a ophthalmology practice that has served the Milwaukee community since 1985.

“That’s why it’s important to schedule a regular eye exam every two years and earlier if you notice any changes or symptoms. Poor vision is not a reality as you get older. It may just be a need for a new prescription for glasses. Or, it could be as serious as blood sugar fluctuations causing damage to your retina. The only way to be sure is to have an eye exam. Early diagnosis and treatment are the best ways to prevent vision loss, ”says Michael Raciti, MD, an eye surgeon who conducts educational conferences for healthcare providers. Paskowitz adds: “We understand people’s reluctance to enter during Covid, but rest assured, eye care specialists have instituted the strictest safety protocols and are doing all they can to keep an eye on health AND safety. patients.”

The following is an overview of the top three visual threats to the black community.

Diabetic eye disease – Distortion of vision
Diabetes can cause blood vessels in the retina to grow abnormally, leaking and bleeding which can lead to blurring, dark spots, and loss of vision. Symptoms: generally none. Most people don’t notice a problem until it is so advanced that the lost vision cannot be restored. That’s why annual dilated eye exams are crucial for anyone with diabetes.


African Americans have a higher risk of developing diabetes. Whether or not the cause is lifestyle (poor diet, lack of exercise), genetics or both, know that diabetes does more than affect blood sugar. Without proper precautions, fluctuating and high blood sugar levels can weaken or cause abnormalities in the blood vessels that nourish the retina at the back of the eye. This leads to leakage and bleeding which can blur vision and permanently deprive a person’s sight. However, many people don’t notice a problem until the permanent damage is already done. This is why annual dilated eye exams are crucial, especially if you are black, which puts you at three times the risk of losing your sight to diabetes than a white person.

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

Glaucoma – Loss of lateral vision
Damage to the optic nerve, which carries information from the retina to the brain. (Often related to increased fluid pressure in the eye.) Symptoms: None, then vision “tunneling”.


“Studies have shown that black Americans have a 6 to 8 times higher risk rate of developing glaucoma, a sight-stealing disease typically caused by increased fluid pressure inside the eye. If left untreated, this pressure can damage the optic nerve, which affects how visual information is transmitted from the retina to the brain. Glaucoma can cause permanent loss of side vision and eventually all sight. Unfortunately, the disease usually does NOT show any symptoms. That’s why regular eye exams are essential to detect it early and prevent vision loss, ”says Mark Freedman, MD, an ophthalmologist with over 33 years of experience.

“Glaucoma is usually treated with the daily use of prescription drops to decrease fluid production or increase fluid drainage from the eye. In cases where drops alone cannot control the pressure, side effects are intolerable or multiple types of drops are needed, laser treatment (SLT or ECP) ​​or minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS) procedures may be an alternative. These only take a few minutes and are usually covered by Medicare and most insurances. They also offer the possibility of reducing or eliminating the burden of purchasing and taking daily glaucoma drops, ”says Daniel Ferguson, MD, an ophthalmic surgeon who performs advanced surgical and laser procedures to relieve pressure. eye related to glaucoma.

Cataracts – Loss of clear vision
Clouding of the natural lens inside the eye which is most often caused by the aging process (such as wrinkles, age spots) and which affects the eye’s ability to focus light to form a image to send to the brain. Symptoms: blurry and blurred vision; faded colors; sensitivity to light and glare.


African Americans are almost twice as likely to develop cataracts as Caucasians. This difference may be due to other medical conditions, especially diabetes. Black Americans are also much more likely to go blind from cataracts and glaucoma than whites, primarily from lack of treatment. 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 a growth on the eye. It is a clouding of the natural lens located inside the eye behind the pupil. It usually occurs as part of the aging process. Six in ten people over the age of 60 have some form of cataract. Symptoms include blurring, sensitivity to glare, halos around lights and new glasses that do not improve vision, ”says David Scheidt, OD, an optometrist who performs pre and postoperative care for patients with cataract.

The only effective treatment for cataracts is to make a very small opening in the eye, surgically remove the cloudy lens (cataract), and replace it with an intraocular lens implant (IOL) to re-focus the light rays on the eye. retina for clear vision. Patients get home in just a few hours and can resume most normal activities. Cataract surgery is covered by Medicare as well as state and most insurance coverage.


• Get regular eye exams, because eye disease does not always have symptoms. African Americans should have a complete dilation eye exam at least once every two years. If you have diabetes, you should have an eye exam at least once a year. Ask your doctor how often you should have your eyes checked.
• Protect your eyes from the sun with sunglasses and a hat.
• Avoid smoking and consuming too much alcohol.
• Check your blood pressure and blood sugar.
• Eat a balanced diet that is high in healthy nutrients (such as fruits and green leafy vegetables) and low in fat and sugar.


Schedule regular dilated eye exams every two years and promptly call an eye care specialist for an evaluation if you experience:

• Vision loss / Blind spots
• Blur / Double vision • Pain in or around the eye • Seeing floaters, spots or webs
• Lines appear distorted or wavy
• Difficulty seeing at night
• Flashes of light
• Sensitivity to light and glare
• Continuous redness of the eyes
• Dry eyes with itching and burning
• Excessive tear production
• Difficulty judging stairs or curbs
• Hold objects closer to sight
• Vision affects the ability to perform tasks
• Changing lens prescriptions does not help


The doctors cited in this article have been named “Best Doctors” by Milwaukee and MKElifestyle magazines and recognized for their 36 years of service to the black community. They have also written a series of in-depth color brochures on common eye conditions, including diabetes, cataracts, glaucoma and macular degeneration (AMD). Call 414-321-7035 for free copies or for information on scheduling a comprehensive eye exam (usually covered by medicare and insurance). Eye Care Specialists has offices on 7th & Wisconsin Ave., across from Mayfair Mall, and 102nd & National Ave. They also offer detailed information on their website at



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