New treatment offering relief for glaucoma patients
What is Glaucoma?
Glaucoma is a common eye disease that affects the optic nerve connecting the eye to the brain and if not detected and treated early can lead to permanent vision loss and blindness. It occurs when the drainage area at the back of the eye becomes blocked; causing fluid to build up and pressure inside the eye to increase. Vision loss starts to occur when the pressure inside the eye becomes too high and damages the optic nerve. According to The World Health Organization glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world and the leading cause of irreversible blindness.
There are several different forms of glaucoma and their prevalence varies depending on race, gender and age. The most common forms include:
- Open-angle glaucoma (OAG) is the most common type of glaucoma in Caucasian populations. OAG occurs when the aqueous humour inside of the front of the eye does not drain properly, causing pressure in the eye to increase and eventually damage the optic nerve.
- Angle-closure glaucoma (ACG) is the most often seen in people of Asian heritage. It occurs when the peripheral part of the iris blocks the outflow pathways. It can be sudden in onset or develop slowly over time.
- Secondary glaucoma can develop as a result of other conditions including cataracts, diabetes, eye injuries and inflammation of the eye, or the use of certain steroid-based medications.
- Glaucoma without high eye pressure (sometimes called normal tension glaucoma) occurs when there is progressive optic nerve damage and loss of peripheral vision, despite pressures within the eye remaining within the normal range. It is thought that other risk factors appear to play a bigger role than eye pressure.
In most cases, glaucoma tends to develop gradually over time and often goes undetected in the early stages. People with glaucoma may not experience any obvious symptoms until vision loss has already begun, which is why regular visits with your eye health professional are so important.
Who is at risk of developing glaucoma?
Anyone can develop glaucoma, however there are a number of factors that can increases a persons risk of developing glaucoma at some point in their lives. These include:
- Having a first degree relative with glaucoma
- Being over the age of 40
- Having diabetes
- Having had a serious eye injury
- Having used steroid medications over long periods of time
- Having high blood pressure (hypertension)
How is glaucoma treated?
Daily medicated eye drops are the most common form of treatment prescribed for glaucoma. There are several classes of drops, which work in different ways. Some eye drops work to reduce intraocular pressure by increasing drainage outflow from the eye; others reduce the formation of fluid within the eye. While eye drops are the least invasive form of glaucoma treatment they are not without side effects and since glaucoma often has no symptoms, people may be tempted to stop taking, or may forget to take their eye drops. It has been estimated that approximately half of all glaucoma patients don’t take their glaucoma medication as prescribed, increasing the risk of permanent, irreversible visual loss.
Fortunately in the last few years a new treatment option has become available to people who are unable or unwilling to use medicated eye drops. This form of treatment is know collectively as Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgery or MIGS. At the Northern Eye Centre we offer glaucoma patients the option of MIGS using the iStent inject device.
iStent Inject device, from Glaukos
Dr Saf Bassili, inserting the iStent Inject into a patient with open-angle Glaucoma
The iStent inject works by inserting two tiny medical implants, known as stents, into the trabecular meshwork (the area of tissue in the eye that is responsible for draining the aqueous humour from the eye). These stents create a permanent channel through the primary blockage site to restore the eye’s natural outflow and reduce pressure within the eye. Up to 70% of patients who were treated with iStent inject no longer needed to take glaucoma medication at 12 months.
iStent Inject device, from Glaukos
So if you or someone you know is currently being treated for glaucoma and would like to discuss new treatment options available, please call the Northern Eye Centre on 9459 5133 and make an appointment to speak with our glaucoma specialist.