Raleigh, N.C. — In America, 2 million to 3 million people have the most common type of glaucoma. There is a standard surgical procedure for that form, called open-angle glaucoma, but Duke University Hospital is looking into non-surgical alternatives.
Glaucoma is most common among older people, but Julie Bryce learned she had it when she was 16 years old.
“Glaucoma is genetic in my family,” she said.
With glaucoma, natural drainage channels collapse. Fluid builds up and creates pressure that can damage the optic nerve and lead to partial or complete blindness.
“I didn't want surgery. I was willing to do anything to avoid surgery,” Bryce said.
Eye drops and oral medications helped at first, but Bryce eventually had to have surgery on both eyes. On her left eye, she had the standard tribeculectomy surgery.
“Problem with that is that it causes a little reservoir on the white part of the eye, which can lead to infection and can leak,” said Dr. Leon Herndon, a Duke ophthalmologist.
Duke is among the few eye centers in the country that offers canaloplasty. That technique reopens the natural drainage channel in the eye. Through a tiny flap, a light-tipped tool called a cannula finds the circular channel around the iris, then a suture is left to keep it open and functioning.
Canaloplasty doesn't get intra-ocular pressure down as low as the standard surgery, however.
"Is for patients who have moderate glaucoma and have not had previous incision glaucoma surgery,” Herndon said.
Bryce, 24, said she wishes she could have had the newer procedure on both eyes instead of just one.
“My canaloplasty was so much better in terms of recovery time and then just general pain afterward. It was much better than what I experienced in my left eye,” she said.
If glaucoma runs in your family, regular childhood exams are recommended. Adults should have a complete eye exam every year or two.
Some people only get an eye exam when they have vision problems, but glaucoma can begin even before you experience vision trouble.