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Group: Avoiding Eye Doctor Increases the Risk for Eye Problems, Blindness

New data shows that many Americans are skipping the eye doctor and not realizing that they could have a potentially blinding eye disease until it's too late.

A recent survey by the American Academy of Ophthalmology showed that only 23 percent of Americans are concerned about vision loss and blindness. And that weight gain, back pain and cancer were greater health concerns.

Fifty-year-old patient David Chute got a wake up call 20 years ago.

"I go in for a standard eye exam and the optometrist back stiffens as she is checking me in just a standard glaucoma screening,” recalled Chute. “I was found to have glaucoma. And I had no idea that I had that problem because you don't feel anything, you have no idea that it’s going on."

Click here to watch a video interview with Chute

Dr. Andrew Iwach from the American Academy of Ophthalmology said the group's survey found many startling statistics.

"Ninety percent (of those surveyed) didn’t know their risk factors," he said. "We found that Americans at a higher risk weren't getting (exams). For patients over age 65, a third were not going in for an annual eye exam. Americans that do not wear contact lenses or glasses thought everything was fine, and they weren’t going in"

New guidelines from the American Academy of Ophthalmology were put into place with a new campaign called EyeSmart. The mission is to decrease the number of age-related and, often, blinding eye diseases like glaucoma, cataracts and macular degeneration. The number of people affected by these diseases is projected to soar from 28 million presently to 43 million by 2020.

"This campaign is to alert Americans that you know what enjoy your vision but we want you seeing for the rest of your life," said Iwach. Simple steps greatly enhance that opportunity.”

Chute is glad he made an eye exam appointment. "You realize how much of your life is about seeing and how much you do is about seeing things around you," he said. "The prospect of losing that is pretty scary."

Doctors recommend that individuals have a comprehensive baseline eye exam at age 40 to access their risks for age-related vision problems.

For more information about the EyeSmart program, go to www.geteyesmart.com.