Vision and glaucoma testing on older African American man

A simple puff of air could illuminate a well-known eye condition.

During your annual eye exam, your doctor will test the pressure inside your eyes—called intraocular pressure, or IOP—with a puff of air. Among Americans, an elevated IOP reading could indicate that you have glaucoma. So what is glaucoma, and why is it such a threat to your eyes?

Glaucoma refers to a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerves, which send visual information from your eyes to your brain. Typically, you lose your peripheral (side) vision first, a problem you may not notice right away. In fact, half of the 3 million Americans with glaucoma don’t even know they have it. 1

While glaucoma can’t be cured, it can be effectively managed and treated to prevent vision loss. You can see either an optometrist or an ophthalmologist for your exam. Here’s what else you need to know about staying one step ahead of glaucoma.

No vision insurance? No problem. Call a licensed insurance HealthMarkets agent at (800) 642-0607 to compare plans, or visit Healthmarkets.com to see plans online.

Fact #1: Anyone can develop glaucoma—but some are at higher risk than others.

Certain risk factors can increase your odds of developing glaucoma. These include the following:

  • Chronic conditions, such as diabetes or high blood pressure
  • Having a family history of glaucoma
  • Being African American, Asian, or Hispanic2,3,4

Glaucoma is 6 to 8 times more common in African American people than in those of European ancestry. It also develops sooner in African American people, making earlier screenings that much more important.2 Other glaucoma risk factors include physical injuries to the eye5 and prolonged use of drugs called corticosteroids (which treat inflammation).6 High caffeine consumption may triple the odds of developing glaucoma, if you have a family history of glaucoma.7

Fact #2: You can get glaucoma testing during your annual eye exam.

There are several tests that help eye doctors assess your risk. The first is the eye-pressure test, a process called tonometry. The eye doctor will also check the back of your eye (the fundus), which includes the optic nerve (ophthalmoscopy; your field of vision (perimetry); the thickness of your cornea (pachymetry); and the angle between your cornea and your iris, which is the colored part at the front of your eye (gonioscopy).

Taken together, the results of these tests will help your eye doctor determine whether you have glaucoma. Eye pressure alone is not a reliable way of figuring it out. In fact, some people develop glaucoma even though they have normal eye pressure; others don’t develop glaucoma even with high pressure levels.

Fact #3: Your eye doctor can treat glaucoma despite there being no cure for it.

Glaucoma is a chronic disease, which means there is no cure for it. Any vision loss it causes cannot be reversed. Fortunately, glaucoma can be controlled in most cases with medication or surgery.

The goal of treatment is to reduce the pressure of excess fluids in the eye that can damage your optic nerves. Depending on how serious your glaucoma is, your optometrist might order prescription eyedrops or refer you to an ophthalmologist for surgery. Surgery can be a treatment option to help improve drainage.

Fact #4: You may be able to get tested for glaucoma with Medicare.

Original Medicare (Part B) covers glaucoma screening in high-risk people, including if you have diabetes, a family history of glaucoma, are African American and age 50 or older, or are Hispanic and age 65 or older. Medicare Advantage plans cover glaucoma testing too, but it’s a good idea to check with your insurance to see if it’s available. “Most Medicare Advantage plans do include additional benefits for things like vision and dental,” says Silas Jessup, an executive sales leader and licensed insurance agent for Northern Indiana and Western Michigan.

Fact #5: You can also get covered for a glaucoma screening with vision insurance.

If you’re worried that you might be at risk of developing glaucoma, you can purchase stand-alone vision insurance or a supplemental policy that covers dental, vision, and hearing services, says Jessup. These plans can cover your screening and diagnosis, along with glasses, contacts, or in some cases, both. Keep in mind that such coverage doesn’t extend to medical treatment of glaucoma if you have it.

“Vision insurance that you would buy privately or that would be tied to a Medicare Advantage plan probably wouldn’t be covering a disease of the eye,” says Jessup. “That’s actually going to be covered under [your regular health insurance].”

Bottom Line: While your optometrist can stay on top of your primary eye care by doing routine screenings for glaucoma, you’ll need to see an ophthalmologist if it turns out you have it. If you are looking for stand-alone vision coverage; a supplemental policy that covers dental, vision, and hearing; or medical insurance to cover glaucoma screenings or treatment, a licensed insurance agent can help you find it at (800) 642-0607. Or, you can review your available options at Healthmarkets.com.

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References

1. National Eye Institute. September 10, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.nei.nih.gov/learn-about-eye-health/eye-conditions-and-diseases/glaucoma | 2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention November 24, 2020. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/resources/features/glaucoma-awareness.html | 3. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention January 22, 2021. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/visionhealth/research/projects/ongoing/glaucoma.htm | 4. National Library of Medicine MedlinePlus December 15, 2020. Retrieved from https://medlineplus.gov/lab-tests/glaucoma-tests/ | 5. National Center for Biotechnology Information January 2, 2022. Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK470379/ | 6. National Center for Biotechnology Information January 2, 2022, Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK430903/ | 7. National Center for Biotechnology Information. December 14, 2020. Retrieved from https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/33333105/

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