January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, a great opportunity to spread the word about a disease that affects more than 3 million people in the United States. Since glaucoma often strikes without symptoms and can cause significant vision loss before a person notices changes in their eyesight, it’s critical to learn what you can do to protect your eyes.
Taking steps to protect your vision is more challenging this year because of the continued impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on our daily lives. January is also typically a time of flux in health insurance coverage with plan changes, deductible and co-pay resets, and prescription plan updates. However, despite these challenges, protecting your vision should remain a priority.
Here are three things you can do to take control of your eye health this month.
1. Schedule an annual eye exam
Early detection and treatment are paramount to managing glaucoma and other vision-threatening conditions. That’s why it’s critical to have an annual eye exam, particularly if you’re over the age of 40. Since some forms of glaucoma are inherited, it’s also important to talk with family members to see if there is any history of the disease within your family. It may not be something your family members have talked about before! This will be valuable information to share with your eye doctor during your exam.
“Glaucoma Awareness Month is a great time for a candid conversation about glaucoma within your family,” says Tom Brunner, president and CEO of the Glaucoma Research Foundation. “If you have a family history of glaucoma you may be at higher risk for developing the condition. The earlier glaucoma is detected, the more manageable the disease may be to treat.”
2. Maintain your current eye care plan
While the pandemic has caused many people to consider delaying in-person medical appointments, it’s very important to keep scheduled office visits if you have been diagnosed with glaucoma. Your eye doctor needs to see you periodically to ensure that your vision is stable and adjust your treatment plan if needed.
If you are concerned about the safety of in-person office visits, you may be pleasantly surprised by the comprehensive steps your eye care provider has taken to help keep you safe. When you make your appointment, the office staff will let you know about any new safety protocols and requirements.
“Social distancing and other protective measures are changing the in-office patient experience,” says Dr. Richard Lewis, a practicing glaucoma specialist and chief medical officer at Aerie Pharmaceuticals. “Among the steps we have taken at my practice are plastic shielding on the instruments, requiring staff and patients to wear masks, and minimizing waiting room and exam room ‘chair’ time.”
It’s also important to continue taking prescribed medications as part of your ongoing glaucoma care. One common reason why people stop taking their medications is because of the cost. The key is to understand your prescription benefits, particularly what medicines are covered, as well as when annual deductible resets and co-pay adjustments occur.
When filling your prescriptions, it may also help to shop around. The price for a medication can vary from one pharmacy to the next, with preferred pharmacies associated with your health plan usually offering the more competitive price. If you are on a Medicare Part D drug plan that doesn’t cover your medication, your doctor may be able to submit a prior authorization to allow you to get it. In addition, if you have commercial insurance and are taking a brand medication, the pharmaceutical company may be able to assist you financially in the form of prescription savings programs.
3. Understand your treatment options
Ongoing scientific research and clinical development in the field of glaucoma have brought forward an array of new medical interventions. In fact, today your eye doctor has more options to treat glaucoma and provide personalized care than ever before. Become your own advocate by learning about all the treatment options that are available and discussing your specific needs with your doctor.
A valuable starting point is “Understanding and Living with Glaucoma,” a free booklet published by the Glaucoma Research Foundation. It can be downloaded or ordered at www.glaucoma.org/booklet. The foundation’s website also offers a wealth of resources to help you take control of your eye health during Glaucoma Awareness Month and beyond.