Seeing Clearly After Glaucoma

April 1, 2009 6:17:35 PM PDT
Four-million Americans have glaucoma. It's the second leading cause of blindness. Only half of those who have it are being treated. Until now, the only answer was invasive surgery, but a new procedure eliminates the need for a scalpel and shortens recovery time.From the day Neil Armstrong landed on the moon, 80-year-old Allen Patrick has always had a fascination with outer space. As an engineer, Patrick actually worked on the Mercury Project -- the first mission to send man out of this world.

"When you're talking about the first time ever you're blasting men 25 miles into space and landing in an ocean, there's always that tension that says, 'Man oh man, this is the first time we've ever done this,'" Patrick told Ivanhoe.

Recently, Patrick worried his star-gazing days were over. He was diagnosed with glaucoma.

"I was to the point where I could hardly see," Patrick said.

When glaucoma strikes, fluid builds up and causes pressure and damage to the optic nerve.

"The optic nerve is the nerve that brings information from your eye to the brain," Carla Siegfried, M.D., and ophthalmologist at Washington University in St. Louis, Mo., told Ivanhoe. "If that pathway is damaged, it's damaged permanently."

Traditional surgery creates a new drain for the eye, but it's invasive and requires six weeks of recovery. Ophthalmologists are using a new technique called ablation to get people seeing clearly again. Electrical currents remove the tissue causing the fluid build-up, re-establishing access to the eye's natural drainage pathway.

"We're trying to improve outflow through our natural drain rather than making a new outflow pathway," Dr. Siegfried said.

The incision is much smaller and cuts recovery time in half. It worked for Patrick.

"I've got 20/20 vision now in both eyes," he said.

The day after surgery, Patrick was able to read the paper -- even the fine print.

The cause of glaucoma is not well-understood, but doctors do know the older you are, the more likely you are to get it. Not all glaucoma patients are good candidates for the new procedure. Those with more advanced disease will need to have traditional surgery. Patients with early to moderate glaucoma will have the best results.

FOR MORE INFORMATION, PLEASE CONTACT:
Judy Martin
Media Relations
Washington University School of Medicine
St. Louis, MO
(314) 286-0105

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