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Millions of Americans in Need of Eye Exams Aren't Focused on Problem

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Eye Exam

A new study from the National Institutes of Health has found that more than 10 million Americans have visual impairments, many of which could be corrected with glasses or contact lenses, but aren't.

That rate has remained fairly level over the years, but ophthalmologists at UT Southwestern Medical Center say it's a good reminder for people to schedule regular vision tests.

"Many of them could be helped," says Dr. Dwight Cavanagh, professor and vice chairman of ophthalmology.

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People under 50 should have an eye exam every two to three years. Those 50 and older, as well as diabetics, should have exams annually. And children should be examined before they enter kindergarten.

The study, which appeared in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found that 6 percent of Americans aged 12 and older (14 million) are visually impaired and about 11 million have uncorrected visual impairment. Teenagers, diabetics, Hispanics, and the economically disadvantaged have higher rates of visual impairment and can most benefit from corrective lenses, according to the study.

Catching some eye diseases early is critical because the vision loss can be irreversible.

"You can't undo glaucoma," which damages the optic nerves, Dr. Cavanagh says. Glaucoma can also be painless and show no symptoms, so an eye test is the best way to catch it early. Diabetics are particularly vulnerable to glaucoma, so eye exams are even more important.