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Waiting Safe for Some at Risk of Glaucoma
Date:3/8/2010

Doctors can postpone treatment in low-risk patients, study finds

MONDAY, March 8 (HealthDay News) -- Eye doctors can often treat glaucoma successfully if they catch it early, but a new study suggests that ophthalmologists can sometimes wait before treating those at risk of developing the disease.

If their ophthalmologists choose to postpone treatment, certain patients with higher-than-normal pressure in the eye won't need to take prescription anti-glaucoma eye drops, potentially for years.

"In the past, doctors were left to their own judgment, which is fine," said study author Dr. Michael A. Kass, chairman of the department of ophthalmology and visual sciences at Washington University in St. Louis. "But it's nice to have some judgment that's backed up by some hard evidence."

Glaucoma, caused when pressure in the eye damages the optic nerve, can lead to impaired vision and blindness. Older people and blacks are at especially high risk.

To measure their risk, ophthalmologists measure eye pressure, often with a puff of air or blue light.

The pressure exists because "there's fluid produced in the eye, and it needs to filter out. It keeps your eye from being soft and mushy, and allows you to keep the structural roundness necessary for you to see," explained Dr. Alfred Sommer, a professor of ophthalmology and dean emeritus of the Bloomberg School of Public Health at Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

People with higher pressure are at risk of developing glaucoma, and eye doctors can give preventive eye drops to patients when their eye pressure is high. But the drops can be expensive and annoying, Sommer said.

So, what to do with the millions of people in the United States who have high eye pressure with no sign of glaucoma damage?

In the new study, Kass and his colleagues tracked 1,636 people with higher than normal eye pressure. The patients were randomly assigned t
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