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Glaucoma Research Looks Promising for Improved Treatment

By KATHY HUBBARD Contributing Writer
| January 19, 2022

Glaucoma is a disease that damages your eye’s optic nerve. It happens when fluid builds up in the front part of the eye. That extra fluid increases the pressure in your eye, damaging the optic nerve.

I won’t get too technical here, but there are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and angle-closure glaucoma. POAG is the most common. Angle-closure is a different story and can cause an acute attack, a medical emergency. Signs include sudden blurry vision, severe eye pain, headache, nausea, vomiting, and possibly seeing a rainbow-colored ring or halo around lights.

The American Academy of Ophthalmologists says that some people have a higher than average risk of getting glaucoma if they’re over forty. Another risk factor is if a parent or sibling has the disease. Those of African, Hispanic, or Asian heritage are also at higher risk.

Other risks include high eye pressure, being far or nearsighted, a previous eye injury, using steroid medications long-term, corneas that are thin in the center, or thinning of the optic nerve. Additionally, diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, poor blood circulation, or other health problems affecting the whole body.

Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness worldwide. It’s estimated that three million people in the U.S. have glaucoma. The worse statistic is that the number is expected to double in the next 30 years.

Harvard Health Publishing says, “Because the damage occurs slowly, it is often without symptoms and goes unnoticed until it is too late. As it progresses, glaucoma can lead to poor quality of life, increased risk of falls, decreased mobility, and difficulty with driving.” Unfortunately, there is no cure for glaucoma. There are, however, ways to prevent it from progressing.

The good news is that researchers are developing better treatment options and learning more about the science behind the disease with an eye on how to prevent it.

If you’re diagnosed with glaucoma, you will be looking at needing to put in eye drops, probably twice a day, and/or surgery to reduce the pressure in your eyes. The National Eye Institute says that there are a few different types of surgery. So the options would be based on your particular case.

A recent article published on the Glaucoma Research Foundation website says that researchers at Georgie Tech have developed a biannual injection that could alleviate both the daily drops and even the possibility of needing surgery.

In their study, “an injection of a natural and biodegradable material was used to create a viscous hydrogel – a water-absorbing crosslinked polymer structure – that opens an alternate pathway for excess fluid to leave the eye,” the report said.

The GRF also funded an extensive genome-wide association study of glaucoma. The study focuses on restoring, replacing, or regenerating the optic nerve and how to rebuild the damaged nerves that have caused vision loss.

And, there is more. A startup company in Israel, Belkin Laser, has developed a faster, alternative laser treatment. “This technology could provide an option to the currently approved form of laser eye surgery known as SLT (selective laser trabeculoplasty), which takes longer.

There’s also some excitement about gene therapy. “Scientists at Harvard Medical School have successfully restored vision in mice by manipulating eye cells in the retina to recapture youthful gene function. It’s the first successful attempt to reverse glaucoma-induced vision loss rather than merely stem its progression,” GRF reported.

Northwestern University medicine is also studying mice to identify new treatments for glaucoma, including preventing a severe pediatric form of glaucoma. An article published on their website says, “Using gene editing, the scientists in the study developed new models of glaucoma in mice that resembled primary congenital glaucoma.

“By injecting a new long-lasting and non-toxic protein treatment into mice, the scientists were able to replace the function of genes that, when mutated, cause glaucoma.

For those who suffer from glaucoma, rest assured that more studies are cropping up regularly. If you suspect you might have glaucoma or have any concerns about your vision, call Bonner General Health Ophthalmology Clinic 208-265-1011 for an appointment.

Kathy Hubbard is a member of the Bonner General Health Foundation Advisory Council. She can be reached at kathyleehubbard@yahoo.com.

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