December 30, 2011

Illinois Eye & Ear Infirmary Offers New Option Against Second Leading Cause of Blindness

Ophthalmologists at the University of Illinois Medical Center will soon offer a new minimally invasive alternative to traditional glaucoma therapies.  The outpatient surgical procedure, known as Trabectome, takes about 20 minutes and is designed to decrease pressure within the eye and stabilize the vision.

Dr. Thasarat Vajaranant“The goal of this procedure is to prevent further damage within the eye,” says glaucoma surgeon Thasarat Vajaranant, M.D. who notes that glaucoma can only be arrested, not cured.   “While all surgeries carry some risk, this procedure can reduce the number of medications patients need and makes controlling glaucoma easier.”

Glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness, is a disease that causes irreversible damage to the optic nerve from increasing pressure within the eye. This occurs because the eye produces a clear fluid that does not drain adequately and raises the eye pressure. Experts estimate that half of the people affected by glaucoma may not know they have it.

Traditionally, ophthalmologists first prescribe eye drops to reduce the eye pressure, and if that doesn’t work, they can perform a laser procedure (trabeculoplasty) to the existing internal drainage canal around the base of the cornea. A more invasive treatment is trabeculectomy, a surgical technique to create a new drain for the eye.

The new Trabectome procedure uses a small probe that opens the eye’s drainage system through a tiny incision in the eye’s cornea.

“It removes a small portion of the eye’s natural drainage system so that it functions better,” explains Dr. Vajaranant, who directs the Glaucoma Service in the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary and was recently named one of America’s Top Doctors® for Glaucoma.  “This is an option when eye drops and laser trabeculoplasty fail to reduce pressure and before trabeculectomy is considered.”

She likens the eyes’ drainage system to the rain gutters on a house.  “If the drainage system get clogged, and the pressure is high enough, long enough – the resulting damage to the optic nerve is called glaucoma.”

Glaucoma also can be caused by toxins in the nerve tissue damaging the optic nerve or by injuries, and babies sometimes are born with it, Dr. Vajaranant notes, but the increased pressure of the clogged meshwork drain is the most common form.

The Trabectome procedure requires very little sedation and patients generally recover within a week. “We have been pleased with the results,” she says, noting that although lost vision cannot be restored with the procedure, some patients have reported improved vision overall after surgery.

An estimated four million Americans are affected by glaucoma. Glaucoma screenings are suggested for anyone over 40 every two to four years. A routine exam can help identify risk for glaucoma and early signs of the disease. Risk factors for glaucoma include: a family history of the disease, African or Hispanic ancestry, diabetes, certain rare eye diseases and having had an eye injury or having used any corticosteroid preparation for a prolonged period.

The Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary’s Glaucoma Service is recognized internationally as a leader in the diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma and other conditions affecting intraocular pressure (IOP).

For more information about the Glaucoma Service at the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary, click here.