World Glaucoma Week starts on Sunday

Screening of ocular pressure can prevent eye disease.

Eye doctor examines patient 370 (photo credit: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)
Eye doctor examines patient 370
(photo credit: Judy Siegel-Itzkovich)
Of 20,000 blind Israelis, many cannot see because their glaucoma was not diagnosed and treated in time.
World Glaucoma Week, which begins in Israel and abroad on Sunday, is aimed at increasing awareness of the degenerative ophthalmological disease which affects both young and old.
There are some 70,000 people here who have been diagnosed with glaucoma, in which pressure of intraocular fluid (aqueous humor) – in addition to other causes – destroys the optic nerve.
Every year, 6,000 more join them.
Dr. Benzion Silverstone, a Mexican-born ophthalmologist and head of the glaucoma unit at Jerusalem’s Shaare Zedek Medical Center, told The Jerusalem Post that the prevalence of the disease is growing almost exponentially, due to the aging of the population. But although testing is recommended for people over 40 for those with a family history, or over 50 or 60, for those without, the majority do not get checked.
Most patients receive eye drops to control the pressure, while more serious cases require laser surgery to open up the blockage in the anterior chamber angle of the eye.
The fluid is constantly being produced in the colored iris of the eye and leaves it through channels in the front. Anything that blocks or slows the fluid from leaving the eye causes a build-up intra-ocular pressure, and eventually, this causes damage to the optic nerve that leads to the brain.
There is no known way of preventing ocular pressure from building up, but as soon as it is diagnosed, it can be prevented to minimize the risks of the disease.
There are four major types of the disease: open-angle (chronic) glaucoma, angleclosure (acute) glaucoma, congenital glaucoma (that affects children) and secondary glaucoma.
Open-angle glaucoma is the most common, and tends to run in families, thus risk is higher if there is a family history.
The acute type causes severe pain due to sudden buildup of pressure and is an emergency. Congenital is inherited, caused by abnormal development of the eye.
Secondary glaucoma is caused by certain drugs, other eye diseases or trauma.
The painless test, called tonometry, performed by eye doctors at the health funds, is an annual screening for excessive ocular pressure.
Regular follow-up is required in actual patients. Ironically, some patients develop glaucoma even though the pressure is not high, and the reason for this is not understood, Silverstone said.
Many new treatments, among them surgery, have been added in the past decade, said Silverstone, who has worked at SZMC for 35 years. These treatments reduce complications, including bleeding and infections.
An article on glaucoma will be published in The Jerusalem Post on March 17.