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BETHESDA, Md. (WUSA9) -- Glaucoma, it is often called the "sneak thief of sight". It is not curable and a leading cause of blindness.
Glaucoma is caused by increased pressure in the eye. The symptoms are only present until very late into the disease. Patients won't notice a problem until they have difficulty with their peripheral vision.
Dr. James Heltzer, M.D. of Champlain Ophthalmology says, "A patient only becomes aware of their damage when the vision has closed off from the periphery into the center of their vision. So it's really important for patients to get examined, to determine if they have glaucoma."
Upon diagnosis many are subject to a lifetime of eyedrops to slow the symptoms. A recent study shows 50 percent of patients after about 6 months of introducing therapy often start to skip eyedrops on a daily basis.
Dr. Heltzer says, "Being really consistent with the drops for a week or two is really wonderful, but on the days that you don't take the medicines the pressure can go up and that's where the damage occurs."
Other drawbacks to the drops according to Dr. Heltzer: They can burn, sting, and cause blurring of the vision.
A newer option is gaining in popularity. Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty, or SLT is a cold laser that targets the inner meshwork of the eye. Increasing fluid drainage, which lowers pressure inside the eye.
"I liken it to a facepeel. It essentially makes the tissue act younger," adds Dr. Heltzer.
Louise Brophy of Bethesda was diagnosed with glaucoma earlier this year. She chose the SLT laser because she didn't want do deal with the drops.
Brophy says, "According to the doctor, if you miss a drop or a couple of drops then you are back to square 1. So you are starting over, and its something that you have to do everyday. You know... think about it... how we are with medicine, so I opted to do the laser."
SLT laser is FDA approved and covered by most insurance providers. Costs can vary between 3 to 4 hundred dollars per eye. Dr. Heltzer says there is a 50 percent chance that a patient with have to get a second treatment in both eyes in 5 years.