Be glaucoma aware: Zion Eye Institute’s specialist discusses risk factors, treatment options

FEATURE January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month and the doctors and staff at Zion Eye Institute are dedicated to raising awareness about the sight-stealing disease that affects more than three million people in the United States alone.

What is glaucoma?

This diagram shows how glaucoma affects the eye, location and date not specified | Image courtesy of Zion Eye Institute, St. George News

Glaucoma is an irreversible blinding disease, said Dr. Marcos Reyes, a fellowship-trained glaucoma specialist. It is a group of eye diseases. The most common form of glaucoma primarily affects middle-aged to elderly patients; it is the second leading cause of blindness among elderly people in the United States but it can affect people of all ages.

Glaucoma is a disease of plumbing, Reyes said. The eye makes and drains its own fluid which is completely separate from blood pressure. If the plumbing gets clogged for whatever reason then the pressure starts to rise.

When the fluid begins to build up it puts pressure on the weakest point of the eye, which is the optic nerve.

“It puts pressure on that structure and causes that structure to thin out,” Reyes said, “so the optic nerve begins to thin and you begin to lose your vision.”

It starts with a peripheral loss of vision and moves toward the central vision. The progression of vision loss can happen over a number of months to a number of years if it is left untreated.

Glaucoma by the numbers

Statistics provided by the Glaucoma Research Foundation show the following:

  • Currently more than three million people in the United States have glaucoma.
  • The National Eye Institute predicts that by 2030, 4.2 million people in the United States will have glaucoma.
  • Glaucoma is often called the “sneak thief of sight.” Up to 40 percent of vision can be lost before a person notices.
  • Among African-American and Latino populations, glaucoma is more prevalent. Glaucoma is six to eight times more common in African-Americans than Caucasians.
  • In the United States, approximately 120,000 people are blind from glaucoma, accounting for 9 percent to 12 percent of all cases of blindness.

Who is at risk?

The leading cause of glaucoma is age, Reyes said. Two percent of adults ages 40-60 will have glaucoma. Eight percent of adults age 70 and above will have glaucoma.

“As we get older, lots of plumbing parts of the body start to fail,” Reyes said. “With glaucoma, the drainage system within the eye begins to fail.”

Other risk factors include a family history of glaucoma and whether a person has ever experienced ocular trauma.

African-Americans are also at a greater risk for glaucoma.

Treatment options for glaucoma

Because many patients don’t realize they have loss of vision associated with glaucoma until it is too late, regular eye exams are crucial to detecting and treating the disease.

This undated image shows an example of how glaucoma progressively affects vision, location and date not specified | Image courtesy of Zion Eye Institute, St. George News

Persons 40 and older and those with a family history of glaucoma should have regular eye exams.

Glaucoma cannot be cured but it can be treated, Reyes said. Persons with glaucoma should be seeing their eye doctor for consistent follow-up and treatment options.

The most common forms of glaucoma treatment are prescribed eye drops and if those are not effective, a laser procedure.

When drops or lasers don’t work the next treatment options are what Reyes called surgical modalities. Surgery is used to either try and open the eye’s natural drainage system or to create a new drainage system for the eye.

Roughly 20 percent of people with glaucoma will end up needing surgery, Reyes said, adding that there is a possibility that they may need more than one surgery.

Why see a specialist?

Patients with nonprogressive glaucoma – cases in which glaucoma is not getting worse and the prescribed drops are working – are OK seeing their regular ophthalmologist, Reyes said, though he is happy to see any patient with glaucoma.

Patients who want or need a second opinion and patients whose glaucoma is not being controlled by drops should seek out a specialist who can help guide them in a proper course of treatment whether it be laser procedures or surgery.

About Zion Eye Institute

Since 1979, the Zion Eye Institute states on its website, it has proudly served the people of Southern Utah and the surrounding area with a tradition of quality service and friendly staff. Its state-of-the-art facility is Southern Utah’s largest and most comprehensive eye surgery center, offering the latest technology and equipment to serve all of a family’s eye care needs under one roof.

Built on the foundation of patient convenience and satisfaction, Zion Eye Institute provides everything from routine childhood vision screenings to the most advanced diagnostic and surgical procedures for seniors.

The Zion Eye Institute facility includes a modern, in-house operating suite, complete with a separate preoperative waiting area and postoperative recovery room. Its knowledgeable and courteous staff will make a patient’s experience enjoyable, and the institute’s staff takes pride in seeing patients in a timely manner. Expert doctors and affiliated specialists will take the time to answer a patient’s questions, explain treatment options and provide the highest quality medical or surgical treatment available.

The Zion Eye Institute is accepting new patients and has four locations to serve patients in Southern Utah and Nevada. In addition to its main office in St. George, Zion Eye Institute is located in Santa Clara, Cedar City and Mesquite, Nevada. More information about Zion Eye Institute can be found on its website.

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