Health Beat: Seeing clearly — getting rid of glaucoma medications

Health Beat: Getting rid of glaucoma medications

CHICAGO - More than two million Americans have glaucoma, but only half know it.  Untreated, it can cause blindness.

In the past, glaucoma sufferers either had to undergo risky surgery or use daily eye drops to help manage the incurable disease. Now, a new implant is helping to eliminate the need for either.

"It feels so good," Lind Sabatini said.

Sabatini thought she had seen the last of driving. She was slowly losing her vision from cataracts and glaucoma. Glaucoma is a disease where fluid pressure builds up inside the eye.

"A sustained elevated pressure then causes damage to the optic nerve, the nerve in the back of the eye," said Dr. David M. Lubeck, ophthalmologist, Arbor Centers for EyeCare.

Doctors implanted a tiny titanium device in Sabatini's left eye. It's called iStent. It creates a channel for excess fluid to drain and lower the eye pressure.

"It is minimally invasive. It has little risk compared to other major glaucoma surgeries, and can effectively reduce the pressure in many patients," Lubeck said.

The iStent surgery is performed during normal cataract surgery, using the same incisions. The new procedure can reduce or eliminate the need for open angle glaucoma patients to use up to three types of glaucoma medications daily.

In fact, 68 percent of glaucoma patients who received the iStent remained medication free at 12 months.

While Sabatini's new lens from the cataract surgery is what enables her to see clearly, it's the iStent that will prevent her from losing vision from glaucoma.

"I can see so clearly," Sabatini said.

Even with the iStent surgery, glaucoma is not curable, and vision lost cannot be regained. However, with medication and/or surgery, it is possible to halt further loss of vision.

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