His advice: Get tested, because early detection can save your sight
(June 2012) As you grow older, your risk of joining the 2.2 million Americans who have glaucoma increases. If you haven’t been getting routine testing for the disease, you could have it and not even know it.
Since there is no cure once vision is lost, early detection can make all the difference, says Yale Medical Group ophthalmologist James Tsai, MD, who is a spokesperson for a national awareness campaign called “Take on Glaucoma: Take Action to Know Your Eyes” and chair of the glaucoma subcommittee of the National Eye Health Education Program (NEHEP) Planning Committee for the National Institutes of Health. The glaucoma public health awareness campaign has been supported by Merck and conducted in partnership with The Glaucoma Foundation and the Alliance for Aging Research.
“People don’t take glaucoma seriously, because the disease can be asymptomatic—or patients don’t notice the initial symptoms. It usually starts with loss of peripheral vision, and that’s a change that people don’t always notice right away,” said Dr. Tsai, chief of ophthalmology and visual science for Yale Medical Group, who is participating in local and national TV and radio programs, and other outreach efforts.
Those who are diagnosed don’t always comply with their treatment plan. “If they are not noticing vision loss, they are often not adherent to medical therapy. Once there is vision loss, it’s permanent. There is no cure for this disease as it progresses,” Dr. Tsai, who is an internationally recognized glaucoma clinician and researcher.
Glaucoma is a leading cause of blindness in which increasing pressure inside the eye causes progressive damage to the optic nerve. Dr. Tsai says anyone at high risk for glaucoma should comply with routine screenings. Risk factors include:
If glaucoma is detected early, treatments may include eye drops (usually the first course of treatment), laser treatment or surgery. “The treatments have been shown to be effective when they are utilized properly, but we can do much more when glaucoma is detected early, before there is permanent vision loss,” Dr. Tsai said.
Dr. Tsai is a past consultant to the Ophthalmic Devices Panel of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, an examiner for the American Board of Ophthalmology, and chairman of the Medical Advisory Board of The Glaucoma Foundation. As a researcher, he has worked on the development of drugs to protect against nerve damage, evaluated the effectiveness of surgical treatments and developed advanced techniques for testing visual function. But for many patients, he says the best medicine will continue to be prevention.