The readers’ forum

Prevention is answer for eye diseases


For 51 years, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine has dedicated itself to preventing blindness by unraveling how eye diseases and cancers occur at the molecular level, and developing the treatments and technologies to prevent or slow their progression. Our success has advanced ophthalmic care around the world and, this month, for the 10th consecutive year, earned Bascom Palmer the nation’s No. 1 ranking in ophthalmology in U.S. News & World Report’s annual “Best Hospitals” report.

We are proud of this recognition, but will not rest on our laurels. We are redoubling our efforts to ensure that South Floridians reduce the risk of losing their sight by undergoing annual dilated eye exams, which can detect diseases before it’s too late to treat them effectively.

All Americans, but South Floridians in particular, should know there are no early warning signs for the leading causes of blindness in the United States, including two diseases that disproportionately affect Hispanics and African Americans — diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma — and one that increases with age — macular degeneration.

Diabetic retinopathy, which occurs when diabetes damages the tiny blood vessels in the retina, is the leading cause of blindness in working-age adults. Glaucoma, the leading cause of blindness among Hispanics, African Americans and, increasingly, Haitian Americans, affects pressure within the eye, leading to progressive damage to the optic nerve and, eventually, blindness. Macular degeneration, the leading cause of blindness among the elderly, results from the loss of photoreceptor cells in the center of the retina known as the macula.

Over the decades, Bascom Palmer’s physician-scientists have been instrumental in developing or pioneering the surgeries and other techniques and treatments that are now used around the world to halt blindness from these and other eye diseases. But surgery is not the answer, prevention is. A dilated eye exam, a painless procedure in which eye drops are used to enlarge the pupil, can detect eye diseases, as well as other health conditions, before vision loss is noticed. Early detection and the appropriate treatment can save sight.

As Bascom Palmer celebrates its No. 1 ranking for the 10th time, we are more committed than ever to conquering eye diseases and preventing blindness around the world. But we need South Floridians to do their part. Do not wait until you notice an eye problem to see an eye doctor. Remember, there are no warning signs or cures for glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy or macular degeneration. Early detection of all three diseases can save your vision.

Eduardo C. Alfonso, M.D., chairman, Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, Miami

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