Over the next 15 years the incidence of Glaucoma is estimated to rise significantly. This is partly due to the fact that America is getting older. Currently, in the USA, there are approximately 80 million Baby Boomers. In fact, every day this year, 10,000 Americans turn 50. In this age group, the incidence of hypertension, diabetes, and obesity are on the rise. Studies show that having one of these disorders could double the risk of developing age-related eye diseases, one of which is glaucoma. The National Eye Institute Prevention Research Group estimates that by 2020 there will be a 53% increase in the number of patients with glaucoma.
Historically, glaucoma has been viewed as a disease caused by increased eye pressure. It has also been viewed that glaucoma represents a common end stage of several different diseases. To understand this view, think of heart failure – which is not a disease, but a clinical end stage of many diseases like high blood pressure and high cholesterol that cause coronary artery disease. Glaucoma has similarly been regarded as a final common end stage of a number of different conditions. Experts agree high eye pressure is the most important risk factor for the development and progression of glaucoma as well as one of the most controllable. It is however, still only a risk factor and not the disease itself. As a result, lowering and /or controlling eye pressure has been the mainstay of treatment. Doctors who routinely treat glaucoma however, have all experienced patients who progressively lose vision in spite of lowering eye pressure to clinically acceptable standards. Because of this, research has led to a new paradigm to explain glaucoma. Rrecently published articles of various clinical studies report that top researchers no longer think of glaucoma solely as an eye disease. Instead, they view it as a neurologic, or neurodegenerative disorder that causes nerve cells in the brain to die; similar to what occurs in Parkinson’s disease and Alzheimer’s.
The new research paradigm focuses on the damage that occurs in a type of nerve cell called retinal ganglion cells (RGCs), which are vital for the ability to see. These cells connect the eye to the brain through the optic nerve. Each human eye contains approximately 1,000,000 RGC’s. By turning their attention to the mechanism that causes RGC’s to degenerate and die, researchers are discovering ways to protect, enhance and even regenerate these vital cells. Glaucoma treatments now in clinical trials include medications injected into the eye that deliver survival and growth factors to RGCs. These same medications have been used successfully for stroke and Alzheimer’s patients in recent years. Other RGC treatments include electrical stimulation to the cells delivered by tiny electrodes implanted in contact lenses or other external devices. Hopefully this research will produce sight saving, and possibly, sight restoring treatments for glaucoma patients.
If you have questions about glaucoma, or would like to be tested for glaucoma, please contact our offices in Stillwater at 405-372-1715 or Pawnee at 918-762-2573. We also invite you to visit our website at www.cockrelleyecare.com and like us on Facebook at Cockrell Eye Care Center!