Even though glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness, common misconceptions about the disease persist. In the following story we shine a light on these misconceptions and discuss two nagging issues glaucoma sufferers continue to face: The mounting costs of glaucoma medication and ongoing challenges to comply with treatment plans.
According to Key-Whitman Eye Center’s Dallas and Arlington Eye Doctor Amy Hong, M.D., “We’re at a point where socioeconomic changes in healthcare are having a direct impact on patient outcomes. Between the rising costs of medication, difficulty remembering to take medication and the discomfort some people experience with drops, compliance with glaucoma treatment plans can be challenging for some patients.”
Fortunately, recent technological advances, such as the iStent implant, offer new treatment alternatives for mild to moderate Glaucoma patients today. Plus, there are even more options on the horizon.
Dr. Hong offers insight into how new medications may reduce cost and compliance issues for glaucoma patients.
If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma or are at risk for the disease (age 45+, family history of glaucoma, African heritage, steroid use and more), it’s important to get an annual eye exam and understand the facts. Several misconceptions about glaucoma and treatments for the disease could put you at risk for permanent vision loss, including:
FALSE. Glaucoma is a silent disease and by the time you experience symptoms (typically, loss of peripheral vision), irreversible vision loss has occurred. Like the spinal cord, once damage to the optic nerve occurs (which is what happens with glaucoma), the damage is permanent. Only an eye doctor can diagnose glaucoma before symptoms appear.
As Dr. Hong explains, “There is a slow deterioration of the nerve that connects the eyeball to the brain, and as it deteriorates, there is no pain involved. Once you notice vision loss, the disease typically will be very advanced.”
Dr. Hong discusses why controlling eye pressure to manage glaucoma is similar to controlling blood pressure but more difficult for patients to monitor.
FALSE. “Glaucoma treatments are used to control the disease. There is no cure. So if your eye doctor places you on glaucoma therapy, you have to maintain and monitor that treatment protocol to prevent further vision loss. It’s not like you can take medication for a year and expect to be cured (see No. 1 above),” says Dr. Hong.
FALSE. According to Dr. Hong, “Both the American Glaucoma Society and the American Academy of Ophthalmology do NOT recommend the use of marijuana as a treatment for glaucoma.”
FALSE. There are currently three treatment options for glaucoma. Along with topical drops, some patients may be candidates for surgical procedures to lower intraocular pressure (IOP) and deter future vision loss.
Selective laser trabeculectomy (SLT) has been offered in the U.S. for several years. Laser energy is applied to the drainage tissue in the eye help reduce IOP. (You can learn more about SLT FAQs on the Glaucoma Research Foundation website.)
The second surgical option is less invasive and involves placing the world’s tiniest medical implant – the iStent – in the eye to reduce IOP for mild to moderate Glaucoma.
As Dr. Hong explains, “The iStent procedure is minimally invasive and usually performed during cataract surgery. It only takes a few minutes to implant the stent, and there is minimal risk and no pain associated with the procedure. Both surgical procedures can help many patients reduce their dependency on drops.”
FALSE and FALSE. There is no question the cost of prescription medication (including some topical drops for glaucoma) is becoming a burden for many people, especially seniors. However, it’s essential that you talk with your eye doctor about treatment alternatives that may be less expensive – because you do have options.
For example, surgical procedures – including iStent and SLT – are often covered by insurance plans like Medicare and some commercial insurers and can offer long-term savings for patients who reduce dependence on drops.
Abandoning or altering the treatment plan your doctor has prescribed is not a good idea, especially with glaucoma. If you don’t take the adequate amount of drops, you won’t be able to control eye pressure properly and vision loss and eventual blindness will occur.
Don’t take glaucoma lightly. The risks are real!
Let’s put it this way. If you have glaucoma and don’t seek treatment you will eventually go blind. Period.
“Glaucoma is a chronic eye disease that requires ongoing treatment by a glaucoma specialist. Even if you FEEL fine, if you have glaucoma, it’s vital to see your eye doctor every three or four months (or per your doctor’s recommendation) to keep your eye pressure in check,” advises Dr. Hong.
If you live in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex and want to learn more about new glaucoma treatment options to reduce medication costs and compliance hassles, give us a call at (214) 220-3937 or schedule an eye exam with our handy online tool.
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