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Pressured by glaucoma: Do you know your eye pressure?

MANILA, Philippines - It is a great tragedy to live without the pleasures and pains that vision can give you and have them all gradually snatched away. The sadness is also in knowing what you are losing slowly. This is what lies before everyone who suffers glaucoma.

Glaucoma is an eye disease that gradually steals vision by damaging the optic nerve, that vital connection of the eye to the brain. Glaucoma is precise and difficult to diagnose or detect early on. It is like a deadly predator that prefers to take its victim bit by bit, working quietly until the moment the afflicted notices what is going on. At that point, it will be much too late.

Glaucoma is irreversible and has no cure. It, however, can be controlled.

Individuals with the following risk factors have a higher chance of developing or having glaucoma: high eye pressure, family history of glaucoma, aged over 45, previous eye injury, chronic steroid use, diabetes mellitus, and Asian descent. But among all symptoms, high eye pressure is probably the most important.

But according to one of the country’s experts in eye care and glaucoma, one risk factor specially stands out.

“If I were to choose one risk factor to highlight in glaucoma it would have to be high eye pressure. It is the single most important risk factor and the only one that can be modified by treatment,” says Dr. Jose Ma. Martinez, current vice president of the Philippine Glaucoma Society, which started with Allergan an aggressive campaign on ridding the country of the dreaded incurable disease.

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Eye pressure

The term ocular hypertension or high eye pressure usually refers to any situation in which the pressure inside the eye, called intraocular pressure, is higher than normal. Eye pressure is measured in millimeters of mercury (mm Hg).

Normal eye pressure ranges from 10-21 mm Hg. Ocular hypertension is an eye pressure of greater than 21 mm Hg.

Ocular hypertension should not be considered a disease by itself. Instead, ocular hypertension is a term that is used to describe individuals who should be observed more closely than the general population for the onset of glaucoma.

For this reason, another term that may be used to refer to an increase in intraocular pressure is glaucoma suspect, a person whom the ophthalmologist is concerned may have or may develop glaucoma over time because of the elevated pressure inside the eyes.

Increased intraocular pressure can result from other eye conditions. However, ocular hypertension primarily refers to increased intraocular pressure but without any optic nerve damage or vision loss. Typical full-blown glaucoma is diagnosed when increased intraocular pressure, optic nerve damage, and vision loss are all present.

How your ophthalmologist chooses to treat you is highly individualized. Depending on your particular situation, you may be treated with medications or just observed. Your doctor will discuss the pros and cons of medical treatment versus observation with you.

Follow-up visits may also be scheduled, as the treatment aims to reduce the effects of the disease. Depending on the amount of optic nerve damage and the level of intraocular pressure control, people with ocular hypertension may need to be seen from every two months to yearly, even sooner if the pressures are not being adequately controlled or if there are progressive changes in the optic nerve.

Glaucoma should still be a concern in people who have elevated intraocular pressure with normal-looking optic nerves and normal visual field testing results or in people who have normal intraocular pressure with suspicious-looking optic nerves and visual field testing results. These people should be observed closely because they are at an increased risk for glaucoma. Vigilance is key in keeping the darkness at bay.

Allergan is a global, technology-driven multi-specialty health care company pursuing therapeutic advances to help patients live life to their fullest potential, while the Philippine Glaucoma Society is an internationally recognized leader in providing excellent glaucoma care in the Philippines through education, exchange of ideas, research and publication.

The Philippine Glaucoma Society also strives to eradicate glaucoma by increasing awareness of the disease in the community, health care system, policy-making bodies and among patients afflicted with the disease.

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