Early detection can prevent glaucoma blindness

Dr. Sadhana Kulkarni

Special to The Record

Did you know March 8-14, 2020 is World Glaucoma Week?

The theme this year is Green = Go get your eyes tested for Glaucoma: Save Your Sight! This year’s celebration still focuses on “BIG – Beat Invisible Glaucoma” campaign pursuing the goal of having a BIG network of global

glaucoma awareness.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness worldwide. However, with early diagnosis and intervention, blindness from glaucoma can be prevented. The goals of therapy are to maintain current vision and to slow the progression of vision loss as people age. Sadly, once vision is lost, it cannot be regained.

Traditional treatments using glaucoma eyedrops are challenged with compliance issues. There is a nationwide shortage of these medications. Without adequate treatment, patients can experience rapid deterioration of vision requiring urgent glaucoma surgery in an attempt to preserve vision.

The good news is, there are high-tech advancements in glaucoma surgery that are minimally invasive, quick to perform and result in rapid recovery for patients. These are called MIGS (minimally invasive glaucoma surgery) and encompass a gamut of surgical procedures and insertion of tiny devices in the eye to lower the eye pressure and thus prevent loss of vision. These technologies provide a paradigm shift in addressing an unmet medical need to manage mild to moderate glaucoma. MIGS procedures are quick and effective, provide rapid recovery for patients and reduce the need for glaucoma eyedrops in the long term. Most of these procedures have a robust safety profile, and delay or sometimes even eliminate the need to perform more invasive surgeries.

Compared to traditional glaucoma surgeries, MIGS requires fewer doctor-patient visits, significantly fewer additional laser or surgical procedures to get the eye pressure just right, and a decreased risk of complications. This translates as savings of time (and anxiety) for patients, and significant savings of dollars for the health care system.

The cumulative impact of actively treating glaucoma-related blindness from a societal standpoint has been well studied. The indirect benefits to taxpayers are huge; including decreased risk of falls, retained ability to drive and/or perform usual daily activities, reduced family/caregiver burdens and depression. Quality of life and independence are retained longer. This is significant, especially when it affects people who are actively employed and caring for their families, and seniors wishing to remain active.

Across Canada, funding for MIGS is currently supported mostly through local health authorities and individual hospitals (Royal Jubilee, Surrey Memorial, Vancouver General just to name a few) but with no dedicated budget from the Ministry of Health. The provinces of Quebec and Ontario (Health Technology Review body) are reviewing MIGS for glaucoma patients and have found that there is excellent clinical evidence to support its use. The hope is the Province of BC would do the same.

Hopefully, with better awareness of the role of MIGS in treating potentially blinding glaucoma; it becomes available in our community soon. We already have the technology and subspecialty trained personnel to provide these services. Encouraging Island Health and Comox Valley Hospital to fund this sight-saving technology at our locale would be a great step forward.

I urge everyone to go Green = Go get your eyes tested for Glaucoma: Save Your Sight!

Dr. Sadhana Kulkarni is a comprehensive ophthalmologist & glaucoma specialist at North Island Eye Centre. She can be reached at 250-890-0089.

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