By Cheryl L. Dejewski & Carolyn Vescio
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in the U.S., especially for African-Americans. In fact, black Americans have a 6-8 times higher risk of developing glaucoma than whites, and a recent study found that one in five black Americans age 75 and older has glaucoma. Glaucoma also has strong family ties. If you have a brother or sister with glaucoma, you have a 20% chance of developing the disease by the time you reach 70.
How can you protect yourself from this sight-threatening disease? The partners at Eye Care Specialists, one of Wisconsin’s leading ophthalmology practices, advise that you schedule regular, dilated eye exams and follow your doctor’s recommendations, including using medications as prescribed. In this article, they explain how lasers are now being used to treat certain cases of glaucoma.
One Patient’s Story . . .
Darlene Price, 64, knows about the consequences of having glaucoma. Price, a retired factory worker and grandmother of 12, was diagnosed with glaucoma by her optometrist in 1995. “My optometrist found that my pressures were high, and she immediately referred me to the doctors at Eye Care Specialists. I was shocked when I was told I better be treated, or I would have the same results as my grandfather.”
Glaucoma is a sight-robbing, often symptom-less, eye disease caused by a variety of factors, including changes in the optic nerve (that make it more susceptible to damage) and often–but not always–an increase in pressure inside the eye. Glaucoma affects more than three million Americans of all ages and races. Sight destroyed by glaucoma cannot be restored. Prescription eye drops and laser and surgical procedures are usually used to halt progression of the disease.
Price’s grandfather, who lived his life on a farm, had glaucoma at a young age. “He was treated with herbs and medicine for his glaucoma and unfortunately went blind. My grandmother cared for him until he died in the 1960s at the age of 87. My own mother also had a lot of eye problems, including glaucoma, cataracts and diabetes, which effected her eyes.”
For years, Price’s glaucoma was successfully controlled with Lumigan, a prescription eye drop designed to help reduce the increased intraocular pressure associated with glaucoma. Over time, however, Price also developed cataracts, a clouding of the natural lens inside the eye. “I discussed with Mrs. Price that she was at a point where she would definitely benefit from surgery to remove the cloudy lens,” states Dr. Mark Freedman. “I also told her about ECP (Endoscopic Cyclo-Photocoagulation), a breakthrough surgical laser procedure that has proven highly effective in both controlling glaucoma and reducing the need for glaucoma medications. ECP can be performed at the same time as or after having had cataract surgery—once the lens (cataract) is removed.”
Price made the decision to undergo cataract and ECP surgery for her glaucoma. She recalls, “The night before the surgery, I was nervous, but the result was just fantastic. I was so amazed by what the doctor could do, I’m just so pleased with the whole thing.” Today, Price’s intraocular pressures are ideal, and she no longer needs to use glaucoma drops.
“I am so thankful for the advances in medicine now,” Price exclaims. “I just wish they could have had this for my ancestors.”
Fast Facts about laser treatment
- What is glaucoma? Dr. Norman Cohen: It is an eye disease that causes progressive damage to the optic nerve and is often related to an increase in fluid pressure in the eye. Left undetected and/or untreated, glaucoma will first cause loss of side vision and later possibly all sight.
- How is glaucoma treated? Dr. Robert Sucher: The most common type is a lifelong condition that requires continual management. To prevent vision loss, we prescribe drops to lower pressure by either decreasing fluid production in or increasing fluid drainage out of the eye.
- Is there an alternative to drops? Dr. Mark Freedman: In some cases, when drops alone cannot control the pressure, or side effects are intolerable, or multiple types of drops are required, laser treatment may be an alternative. The most effective procedures are LTP & SLT (which increase fluid drainage) and ECP (which decreases fluid production). All take less than 10 minutes at our surgery center and are covered by Medicare & most insurances.
- How safe are laser procedures? Dr. Brett Rhode: LTP has a track record of more than 20 years. ECP & SLT are newer, but have success rates of up to 90% in controlling glaucoma and reducing the need for drops or surgery. They also have much lower rates of complications compared to other glaucoma surgeries and can be repeated, as needed.
- What are the major benefits? Dr. Daniel Ferguson: If laser treatment achieves the goal of steady normal pressures, it may eliminate two huge burdens—cost and compliance. Patients may no longer have to worry about buying and taking their drops. This is especially important for people who already have other conditions requiring daily medication.
Glaucoma hits 1 in 30 people over age 40. Are you at risk?
Because glaucoma has no symptoms, the American Academy of Ophthalmology encourages everyone over the age of 40 or anyone with any of the following known risk factors to undergo a thorough screening to detect the disease before vision is compromised. Risk factors for glaucoma include:
- Age (over 40)
- A family history of glaucoma
- African, Hispanic or Asian heritage
- Myopia (nearsightedness)
- A previous eye injury
- Long-term steroid/cortisone medication use
- Pre-existing elevated intraocular pressure
Free educational booklets & information
Eye Care Specialists’ doctors are dedicated to the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma, diabetic eye disease, cataracts and macular degeneration. They frequently lecture to the public and physicians and have written their own series of booklets on these conditions. Call 414-321-7035 for FREE copies or to schedule an appointment for a thorough eye screening (usually covered by insurance or Medicare) at their offices on 7th & Wisconsin Avenue, Mayfair Road near Mayfair Mall, or 102nd & National. They can also be found at www.eyecarespecialists.net.