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Still Time for South Dakotans to 'See the Light'

January 30, 2008

Elk Point, SD – Glaucoma awareness month is almost over, but eye health professionals say it's still important for South Dakota residents to "see the light" and get educated on the disease. The Glaucoma Research Foundation estimates that 3 million Americans have the disease but only half know it. Dr. Ryan Arlt is an optometrist with the Elk Point Community Health Center. He says glaucoma is a devastating condition that damages the optic nerve carrying visual information from the eye to the brain and that symptoms include loss of vision and eventual blindness.

"It happens peripheral and then goes central. It's an age-related thing. People don't typically know that they've lost vision. It's a very slow process and the only way it can be detected is usually through eye exams. If a person actually can see the changes then it has progressed far enough that they're basically blind."

Dr. Arlt says the Elk Point Community Health Clinic in South Dakota is a unique health center that also treats many diabetics who are medically under-served in rural areas of the state. He says combining eye services alongside diabetic health care has been a successful collaborative effort.

"If diabetes goes uncontrolled, one of the side effects of the eye is glaucoma along with blindness from diabetic retinopathy. So, we do work with them in helping control that."

Dr. Arlt says most glaucoma cases are treated with topical drops, although some individuals can also seek out surgical interventions. He says there's no cure yet and that yearly exams, early diagnosis and continuing treatment can preserve a person's eyesight.

David Law/Eric Mack, Public News Service - SD