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What are you going to do differently this year? Take better care of yourself? Exercise more, eat healthier, or see the doctor as often as you should?

Finding time to implement well-intentioned resolutions is hard. But don't underestimate the importance of those doctor visits -specifically, visits to your eye doctor.

A quick trip to your optometrist may save your sight. January is National Glaucoma Awareness month. You've probably heard of glaucoma, but may not know how quickly it can take your eyesight.

Glaucoma affects more than three million Americans, but over half of them don't even know that they have it, according to Prevent Blindness America.

Glaucoma begins by attacking your peripheral vision, typically causing objects to appear less clear. At first, you may compensate by squinting or turning your head to focus better. These changes may seem minor, but glaucoma can accelerate quickly causing your eyesight to rapidly and irreversibly deteriorate.

Like many diseases, some factors, including age, race, and genetics, can increase the risk of developing glaucoma. Glaucoma usually affects one in 200 people under age 50, but by age 80, as many as one in 10 people are diagnosed with glaucoma.

What's really alarming is that nearly 20 percent of adults have never been to an eye doctor, and more than 60 percent of respondents thought that glaucoma was preventable, according to the American Optometric Association's American Eye-Q survey. Glaucoma cannot be prevented, but if diagnosed and treated early, it can be controlled.

This reinforces what the Oregon Optometric Physicians association recommends: adults need regular, comprehensive eye exams. Fortunately, Medicare covers annual glaucoma screenings for people considered at heightened risk of developing glaucoma. This includes individuals with diabetes, those with a family history of glaucoma, African Americans age 50 and older and Hispanic Americans age 65 and older.

So start off the New Year right: set up an appointment with your eye doctor - and maybe hit the gym and grab a salad on your way home too.

Dr. Brad Smith, a resident of Yamhill County with offices in Tigard and Beaverton, is the past legislative director for Oregon Optometric Physicians Association OOPA and remains an active member. The Oregon Optometric Physicians Association, in conjunction with its parent organization the American Optometric Association, provides a Glaucoma Hotline program that matches Medicare patients with participating optometrists in their area: 1-800-262-3947.

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