Many Women Go Blind from Preventable Causes

Feb. 19, 2006 — -- Forty-seven-year-old Patricia Gay-McCoy is losing the sight in her right eye, and she's already blind in her left eye.

Her blindness is caused by glaucoma, a menace that afflicts more women than men, especially African-Americans. Caused by fluid buildup in the eye, glaucoma can't be felt.

The number of victims from eye diseases such as glaucoma, macular degeneration and cataracts is rising. But, in many cases, the suffering can be prevented.

Gay-McCoy feels that if she hadn't had a car accident, she never would have know what she was suffering from.

"When I was in this car accident my eyes got messed up and that's when they noticed I had glaucoma," she said.

No Warning Symptoms

Dr. Max Helfcott, the ophthalmologist treating Gay-McCoy, says she made a common mistake -- failing to get regular checkups, something critical in a disease with no symptoms.

"There are no symptoms," Helfcott said. "You go blind and that's it, and you have no warning."

With her family history of the illness, Gay-McCoy should have started getting eye exams when she was in her 30s, according to Helfcott.

"This happens slowly over the years," Helfcott said. "This is a decades disease."

The FDA has recently approved a test for glaucoma people can take at home. Available online, it takes only three minutes to do, and an eye doctor will evaluate the results and e-mail the findings within 24 hours.

Macular Degeneration

But glaucoma is not the only eye disease putting more women at risk. For Margo McClung, 83, reading every day is a struggle since her eyesight has steadily deteriorated. She suffers from macular degeneration, the most common cause for sight loss in Caucasian women.

Like Gay-McCoy, McClung is being treated to slow her vision loss. But both women know that the doctors can only do so much.

"I have always felt that maybe some sort of miracle will happen," McClung said, "and I'll be able to drive again."

Tips to Help Avoid Eye Disease for Women and Men

Doctors say there are steps women and men can take to help avoid common eye diseases.

Get your eyes checked regularly by a licensed eye doctor.

Wear sunglasses with UV protection.

Eat lots of fruit and leafy green vegetables that contain lutein.