Glaucoma is called the "silent thief of sight" because it carries no signs or symptoms. It is typically managed with eye drops multiple times a day. But now, a quick, cold energy laser procedure can zap the problem and protect your vision.
It has been seven years since Rosita Collins got an unexpected eye diagnosis. "I came in for an eye check and was told I had glaucoma," she said.
Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness and half of those that have it do not even know it. "You don't notice anything," said Rosita, "no pain, no visual problems."
Ophthalmologist A.J. O'Byrne at The Eye Clinic in Lake Charles says glaucoma is a build-up of fluid in the eye, increasing eye pressure. "The fluid flows behind the iris through the pupil and then it outflows through an area called the trabecular meshwork," he said.
If the fluid outflow is slower than normal, pressure can build up. That pressure damages the optic nerve in the back of the eye, causing vision loss. "So what we have to do is lower that pressure and you can lower it by either increasing outflow or there are drugs that decrease fluid production," said Dr. O'Byrne.
Most people with glaucoma use eye drops to lower eye pressure and slow the disease, but that can be irritating. "Glaucoma drops have preservatives, which over time can become irritating to the eye," said Dr. O'Byrne.
One of the newest tools in reducing eye pressure and saving vision is called "selective laser trabeculoplasty" or SLT. Dr. O'Byrne is the first ophthalmologist in Louisiana to perform it. "It is cold energy that sends an energy wave and so you're essentially tapping the existing drainage system all the way around," said Dr. O'Byrne. "You're not cutting anything, you're not burning anything or creating any scar tissue."
Collins has undergone the laser procedure twice.
Here is how it works: you start with numbing eye drops, then look at a flashing light. At that point, a laser sends cold energy to the eye for one minute. "You feel some tiny little pricks, but not painful pricks," said Collins.
SLT does not change your vision, but it does protect it. That is something Collins says keeps her hobbies going strong. "I garden, I knit, I play the guitar," she said, "and you want to be able to see."
The most common complaint after undergoing SLT is temporary irritation and soreness to the eye.
Eye pressure improvements last for years, but not forever. SLT is safe for multiple procedures.