For most people, “The Eyes of Texas” represents the Longhorns’ fight song at the University of Texas. While I enjoyed last weekend’s UT game immensely, as the CEO of Alcon, the eyes of Texas reminds me of the millions of people living here – and indeed around the world – who take their eyesight for granted.
At Alcon it’s our business to track eye health data. By 2050, cases of visual impairment and blindness are projected to double to more than 8 million. A half million cases will be in Texas.
Already more than 2.6 million Texans are living with vision loss due to cataracts, diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration. This, despite the fact that 80 percent of visual impairment and blindness – four out of five cases – are preventable or curable if caught and treated early.
Nonetheless, as we observe World Sight Day today, many Texans are foregoing routine eye exams. Vision loss has a profound impact on affected individuals and those around them:
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▪ It threatens our independence. Many individuals with visual impairment can’t see well enough to drive; half of car accidents are linked to poor sight. Loss of sight threatens our ability to provide for our families, reducing job performance by 20 percent and diminishing employment opportunities, job satisfaction and job security.
▪ It threatens our health beyond our eyesight. Visually impaired older adults are seven times more likely to fall and sustain injuries. Loss of vision can impact the psychological and emotional health of elderly people, causing depression, anxiety and social disengagement and increasing the risk of cognitive decline and dementia.
▪ It threatens our collective pocketbook. Vision problems cost the U.S. $139 million annually.
▪ It threatens the next generation of Texans, our children. Only 14 percent of U.S. children have received a comprehensive eye exam, the best way to detect vision problems, by age 6. Nine out of 10 U.S. kids who need glasses don’t have them. A third of children experience vision problems that affect their long-term health, school performance and emotional and social development.
Let’s stop taking our sense of sight for granted and make eye care part of good health practices throughout life, as we do with dental checkups and an annual flu vaccine.
Adults aged 18 through 64 should have a comprehensive eye exam every one to two years. Those with risk factors, such as diabetes or a family history of glaucoma, should have at least annual eye exams, as should those aged 65 and older.
Children should have an eye exam between six and 12 months of age and again between ages 3 and 5, before starting school and annually between ages 6 and 18 years.1
Cost is one reason why many people skip eye exams, but there are options for those without vision benefits who cannot afford eye care, including the free adult eye health screenings taking place today at the State Fair of Texas. The Community Eye Clinic and Cook Children’s Medical Center, both in Fort Worth, and Cornerstone Cataract Clinic in Dallas provide care for those in need. The Alcon Foundation supports these facilities and is sponsoring the Fair screenings.
This year’s World Sight Day theme is Eye Care Everywhere. Let’s begin by eliminating avoidable visual impairment and blindness here at home by making routine eye exams part of healthcare at every age. The Eyes of Texas – today and tomorrow – are at stake.