- The Washington Times - Thursday, March 14, 2002

Staff writer Denise Barnes interviewed Dr. Jacqueline D. Griffiths, founder and medical director of NewView Laser Eye.
Question: I understand you go to senior centers in the community during your lunch breaks to educate the public about overall eye health and talk about "the aging eye." Why do you do this with such a demanding schedule?
I really enjoy teaching. I've found that a lot of lay people don't understand basic things that may happen to their eyes. And physicians in general practice may not be as up to date on some of the procedures in ophthalmology. So I lecture to doctors and lay people alike. For the general practitioners, it's how to recognize conditions that need to be referred to ophthalmologists. Or conditions they can handle on their own.
For the lay person, there are many words thrown around for example, a person might say, "My grandmother had cataracts," or "My father had glaucoma," but they don't understand what they are. Many, many diseases of the eye, we can treat successfully, if the diseases are caught early. But people need to be aware of the symptoms of potential problems.
And so the lectures I give on "the aging eye" cover the simplest conditions a sty on the eye and what that is, to droopy lids, cataracts, glaucoma, diabetes, macular degeneration to retinal problems that cause vision loss. It's really important for patients to know when to report to the emergency room.
A lot of people come into the office very concerned about some redness on the eye that just popped up overnight, but it turns out that is mostly a benign condition: A simple cough in the middle of the night can lead to a small ruptured vessel on the surface of the eye, which is no worse than a bruise. However, it looks worse than it really is.
Whereas when someone gets … flashes of light [in their field of vision], which can predict a problem with the retina like a tear. The retina is the inner lining of the eye. That tear can cause a retinal detachment in the eye, which is far more of a pressing concern. If it's caught at the tear stage, we can do a simple procedure. But if it develops into a retinal detachment, you're in the operating room and the vision could be threatened if it's not addressed in a timely manner.
Q: How frequently do you give talks on the "the aging eye?"
So far, I've conducted about five seminars, but we've planned to have 13 seminars in senior centers throughout Fairfax County.
In the past, the age groups I've talked with were people over 50, and they were quite intrigued by "the aging eye" lectures because if they haven't had any of the symptoms themselves, they know of someone who has. So far, nobody has fallen asleep during my lectures. They were all very interested and asked questions for 45 minutes afterwards for further explanations.
Q: What are some of the most commonly asked questions after a lecture on "the aging eye"?
They might ask when is a cataract "ripe." People will go to the doctor, and he or she will say, "You have a cataract," but won't mention taking it out. The right time to remove it is when decreased vision is causing a problem and affecting a person's daily activities. That's when it is time to remove it. Sometimes a cataract [a hazy lens in the eye] can take several years before it's ready to be removed.
The audience also asks about diabetes and how it can affect the eyes. Diabetes can affect the eyes in many ways from front to back. But the most typical changes we see are in the retina. It's paramount to catch those changes before they actually cause problems. That's why a person who has been diagnosed with diabetes needs to be seen by an ophthalmologist at least once a year for preventive care.
Q: When does a person's vision begin to deteriorate?
After the age of 40, you start to see things from "dry eye syndrome" to the beginnings of glaucoma if someone is at high risk. So we recommend annual eye exams after the age of 40.
The other things that happen as we get older have to do with the structure of the lids around the eye. They basically start to droop. The drooping can cause tearing problems, it can cause peripheral vision problems and chronic redness. So when it gets to a point like that, we need to tighten up the lids, which will help the problem.
Q: What's the most common eye disease that affects blacks?
Glaucoma is nine times more common in African Americans than any other race. It is a condition that can silently blind a person over many years. Because the disease primarily affects the peripheral vision, patients don't notice that there is a change in their vision as easily as if something happened to their central vision. You also don't feel pressure in the eyes for the most part.
Therefore, it's important to have preventive care by having your eye pressure checked once a year, especially if you are African American, or if there's a family history of glaucoma or you're on certain medications like Prednisone. Studies have shown glaucoma can be very aggressive, and it an be more resistant to standard treatment. It's important to catch it early. It's not curable, but it is treatable.
Q: Tell me a bit about your speciality in ophthalmology.
Laser vision correction, which I do in my office, has taken the world by storm. People who have worn glasses for decades are now able to see without glasses or contacts. There have been several million people who have had the surgery now worldwide. I think one day it will be as popular as contact lenses. [Laser vision correction] really changes people lives.
I've received so many warm and personal letters from patients after they've undergone the procedure telling me how they've benefited from the surgery.
It's the simple things like waking up in the middle of night and seeing the clock. A person who wears glasses can't function without them. While some may think this is a cosmetic issue, there are safety factors involved as well. If you are in a situation and have little time to move and you have to search around for your glasses, it could put you in danger. Contacts can cause sight-threatening eye infections.
So it becomes very popular not only for people who are active like athletes, but for those from all walks of life like firemen and policemen. It can enhance their ability to do their jobs. Many of my colleagues in the medical field have had it done as well. Everyone has a different reason and they are all good.
Q: Is this new technique making your job as an ophthalmologist more fulfilling?
It's extremely fulfilling in that the day after surgery, I can feel the elation in the waiting room. Patients who have driven themselves into the office, and they're seeing everything for the first time without the use of glasses or contact lenses. It's like a party in the waiting room.
So the benefits are great and the risks are small. But the public should do their homework first and understand who they are going to [for the procedure], the surgeon's experience and have a handle on the laser center and what it stands for.

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