In an effort to fight one of the leading causes of blindness, health organizations around the globe have pronounced March 6 as ‘World Glaucoma Day.’
Also known as the “sneak thief of sight,” often because there are no warning signs, the disease is a progressive loss of function.
“The disease is more frequently seen in people who are 65 and older,” said Dr. Anne Louise Coleman, Frances and Ray Stark professor of ophthalmology at the Jules Stein Eye Institute at UCLA. “However, it does occur in younger individuals, especially in Hispanics and African-Americans.”
Eye doctors recommend regular glaucoma screenings beginning at the age of 40, because if detected early enough, the disease can be treated and blindness can be prevented.
Between 2.5 million and 3.5 million people in the United States have glaucoma, said Dr. Craig Marcus of Glaucoma Consultants of Long Island.
And 50 percent of those people don’t even know they have the disease, he added.
There are 120,000 people in the United States who are legally blind from glaucoma, Marcus said.
There are three ways to treat glaucoma:
— Medication (oral and eye drops).This is probably the most convenient way to treat glaucoma; however, you cannot stop using your eye drops, even if you feel your condition is improving.
— Lasers. First, the eye is numbed; next the doctor holds a lens to the eye. A laser beam is aimed into the eye and makes small scars, which reduces the eye’s pressure.
— Surgery. There are a few different kinds of surgeries, such as a trabeculectomy and the canaloplasty.
Coleman said she performs a trabeculectomy on patients who cannot benefit from lasers or medication.
In this procedure, a hole is created in drainage area of the eye. The opening is somewhat covered with a flap of tissue, but the new opening allows fluid to drain out of the eye and avoiding the drainage channels of the trabecular meshwork.
Marcus recently began performing a newer surgery called canaloplasty, in which doctors place a micro-catheter inside the eye’s canal and dilate it with a gel-like material, tie a tiny suture to it and then pull out the catheter.
“We’ve removed the middle layer of tissue and it takes about an hour,” Marcus said of the non-penetrating procedure. “It’s new and exciting.”
To learn more about World Glaucoma Day, visit wgday.net.