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HEALTHBEAT 4: Preventing and detecting glaucoma


MOVILLE, IA (KTIV) - Protecting our eyesight is a vital part of our lives. But without annual checkups diseases such as Glaucoma can go under the radar.

It's one of the leading causes of blindness for people over the age of 60 and while it's more common in older adults, it can happen at any age.

"We want to catch it right at the beginning of the disease and at the beginning of the disease it's the hardest to detect," said Dr. Keith Schrunk. "You've just started to lose those nerve fibers. So it's like a puzzle. You're putting all the pieces of the puzzle together."

Dr. Schrunk said Glaucoma is a very serious eye condition. First, it will start to rob your peripheral vision, but can eventually make you go blind. So, there are several things optometrists check for.

"One is family history," said Dr. Schrunk. "The other is eye pressure checks. Then the third is looking at your optic nerve."

If two of those risk factors are deemed suspicious, they go into further testing.

"Measuring your corneal thickness in microns, measuring the nerve fiber layer," said Dr. Schrunk.

To measure that layer, optometrists use an OCT or optic coherence tomography.

"It takes that layer of the retina that we talked about that has the nerves in it, measures that thickness and compares it with people your age or gender to do a statistical analysis," said Dr. Schrunk.

After three tests it will start comparing trends. But one of the biggest problems Dr. Schrunk said there is with glaucoma: there are no symptoms in a majority of patients. In rare cases, you would have pain or foggy vision.

"I've had patients with very high eye pressure," said Dr. Schrunk. "The average eye pressure being around 15 millimeters per mercury, that come in and have 45 millimeters of mercury pressure and have no symptoms at all and are losing their vision as we speak."

Right now, there is no cure, but Schrunk said there is treatment, with the goal of slowing the disease down.

"The goal is basically in a nutshell, to get your vision to outlast you," said Dr. Schrunk. "But unfortunately about 10% of people that we treat, still go blind."

That's why Dr. Schrunk said annual eye exams are so important. So they can catch any problems early on.

Dr. Schrunk said over the last couple of years, there have been significant advancements in treating glaucoma. Four new medications have come out, as well as a whole list of minimally invasive glaucoma surgeries to help bring the pressure down when drops aren't enough.

Michaela Feldmann

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