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For Immediate Release
Contact Kathy Garre Ayars

Healthy Eyes Alliance Celebrates National Save Your Sight Month With Free Vision Screenings at the New Haven Free Public Library

Click here for a printable posterNew Haven, CT (March 5, 2014). Imagine not being able to read the newspaper, text, watch a video, movie or TV, see your children play, order from a menu, or drive a car. No one wants to rely on others to cross the street or do the grocery shopping, but these everyday occurrences often cannot be done without healthy vision.

Good vision is critical to conducting activities of daily living, is a portal for language, and affects developmental learning, communicating, working, health and quality of life.

Unfortunately, far too many people are at risk for losing their eye sight. More than 80 million Americans have a potentially blinding eye disease, 3 million have low vision, 1.1 million are legally blind, and an additional 200,000 are more severely visually impaired. Additionally The National Eye Institute predicts that by the year 2020 the number of blind or visually impaired people in America will double from 21,000,000 to 42,000,000.

A new study by Prevent Blindness, states that the economic impact of vision disorders and disabilities in the US is $139 billion dollars this year.

Despite the fact that 50% of all blindness can be prevented, too many people do not access the eye care they need due to a lack of awareness and/ or financial resources.

Healthy Eyes Alliance (HEA), a Tri-State nonprofit, whose headquarters is located in downtown New Haven, has been providing free, sight-saving services to communities throughout the Tri-state area for over 100 years. Its goal is to detect potential eye disorders, provide care coordination for follow-up medical services, and raise awareness of the need for regular eye exams and promote healthy eyes. A majority of its clients are at-risk and living in underprivileged, urban neighborhoods.

On March 26, 2014, in honor of National Save Your Sight Month, HEA will conduct free vision screenings for the public at the Main Branch of the New Haven Free Public Library- in the Meeting Room- between the hours of 10:30 am and 2:00 pm. No appointments are necessary.

“Early diagnosis and prevention are incredibly important,” says HEA’s Chief Executive Officer Kathryn Garre Ayars. “Our screenings, follow-up, and public education programs have life-changing effects on our clients. Once screened, our staff can assess the need for follow-up treatment, and refer clients to an Optometrist, and then, if necessary, to an Ophthalmologist for those conditions that require specialized treatment such as surgery. Sight can be saved,” she concluded.

About 80% of its screenings are conducted in pre-school settings. Last year HEA reached over 5,000 preschool children in Connecticut alone. “Our goal is to detect potentially blinding diseases in young children, such as Amblyopia and Strabismus, in order to refer them for treatment that will stave off blindness, and remove another barrier that would inhibit their school performance,” says Program Manager Naomi Hayner. “If a young child can’t see, he/she can’t learn and succeed in school and life,” she continued. One screening in Meriden detected amblyopia in a preschooler, which if left undetected, could have led to permanent blindness. Instead, he was referred for treatment including his new glasses.

HEA also screens hundreds of adults throughout the state in community agencies such as the Western Connecticut Area Agency on Aging, YMCA’s and at corporate and community health fairs. The leading causes of vision loss in adults are diabetic retinopathy, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration (AMD), and cataracts.

Most people associate AMD and cataracts with old age. But they are unaware of diseases such as diabetic retinopathy, and glaucoma-that can steal sight in adults of all ages. Indeed teenagers as young as 15 have been diagnosed with glaucoma-and diabetic retinopathy can occur as early as young adulthood. African-Americans and Hispanic populations are at significantly higher risk for some types of eye disease such as glaucoma and diabetic retinopathy, and often lack access to care.

Between 40 to 45 percent of Americans diagnosed with diabetes have some stage of diabetic retinopathy. Since diabetes is reaching epidemic proportions, it is no wonder that this disease is the fastest growing eye disease in individuals between the ages of 24 and 74. Unfortunately an estimated 50 percent of patients are diagnosed too late for treatment to be effective.

Knowing that early detection and diagnosis is the key to prevention in 90% of the cases.

HEA has created a unique diabetic retinopathy project that it piloted first in the Bronx in 2012, and is currently modeling in two of Newark’s Community Health Centers. HEA brings another layer of service to patients in these medical home settings- where there are high numbers of underserved, obese and diabetic patients- including screenings, referrals, training and care coordination for those that are at greatest risk.

Screening for signs of Glaucoma is part of the standard program that Healthy Eyes Alliance brings to the community. Glaucoma to damages the optic nerve which carries visual information from the eye to the brain, often causes peripheral vision loss, which is often unnoticeable until a significant amount of nerve damage has occurred. For this reason, as many as half of all people with glaucoma may be unaware of their disease. Factors for glaucoma include age, race, diabetes, eye trauma, and long-term use of steroid medications. HEA’s screening tools allow screeners to detect problems with the visual field-indicators of glaucoma.

A Cataract is a clouding of the eye's naturally clear lens, or cornea. Cataracts may be the result of a lifetime of exposure to ultraviolet radiation contained in sunlight, or factors such as cigarette smoking, diet, and alcohol consumption. While cataracts can be treated through surgery, many individuals still aren’t treated for this condition.

Another leading cause of blindness is age-related macular degeneration (AMD), a condition that primarily affects the part of the retina responsible for sharp central vision. You may be at risk for AMD if you are over 50, Caucasian, and use tobacco products. Because AMD often damages central vision, it is likely the most common cause of legal blindness and vision impairment in older Americans.

Whether you have diabetes, AMD, glaucoma or cataracts, the common theme to eye health is prevention, through early detection, diagnosis and treatment. Eye sight can be saved, but once it is lost it can never be retrieved.

HEA, whose mission is to prevent vision loss and promote healthy eyes, operates in Connecticut, New York and New Jersey and last year served over 13,000 through direct service to primarily underserved populations. It reached thousands more through its social media, and public education programs. HEA’s services are funded by private donations, which in Connecticut include The Community Foundation of Greater New Haven, The Werth Family Foundation, The Hartford Foundation for Public Giving, The Curran Foundation and the Katherine Matthies Foundation, to name a few.

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