2007-12-28 / News

USC School of Medicine offers new procedure to treat glaucoma

Contributed by USC School of Medicine

Glenn Martin of Bethune wasn't surprised when he learned he had glaucoma. His 81- year- old mother Julia Davis suffered from the disease for many years.

Thanks to a new, minimally invasive surgical procedure, which is being performed in the Palmetto State only by a University of South Carolina School of Medicine ophthalmologist, Martin and his mother have hope the effects of glaucoma can be reduced or eliminated.

Dr. Kenneth Mitchell, a faculty member in the School of Medicine's department of ophthalmology, is performing surgery that uses a device, called the Trabectome. The surgical procedure, performed on an outpatient basis, uses a local anesthetic and takes only about 15- 30 minutes to complete.

"The advantage is it's much less invasive than other types of surgery," said Mitchell, the first glaucoma specialist in South Carolina to perform this new surgery.

Martin, who has had the Trabectome procedure done on one eye, will have surgery on the other eye in January. His mother had the procedure on both eyes, and Martin said it's a relief to know they won't have to rely on expensive eye drops to reduce the pressure that can damage the optic nerve. Glaucoma has few symptoms but can cause blindness if left untreated. The disease often occurs when the eye's drainage canals quit working and become clogged. The pressure builds and eventually damages the eye. The effects can be so subtle that most people don't know anything is wrong until they begin losing their peripheral vision or have an eye exam.

The Trabectome procedure opens the eye's drainage system. Because it has few side effects, patients are able to return to work in about two days, he said.

After the Trabectome procedure, many patients can reduce or discontinue their glaucoma drops, Mitchell said.

Doctors estimate approximately three million people in the U.S. have glaucoma, but only half of them are aware they have the disease.

"Glaucoma is a very serious problem in South Carolina," Mitchell said, "and is especially prevalent among African Americans, who often get glaucoma earlier in life."

Eye drops, laser surgery, or any other surgery only slow or stop the progression of the disease before a person becomes blind.

"Protecting your sight from glaucoma requires being tested by your doctor," he said. "Then, he or she can prescribe the best treatment for you, and that treatment can begin before further damage to the eye is done."

Martin said he was fortunate to have an ophthalmologist who referred him to Mitchell.

"This is a new type of surgery, and not everyone knows about it," Martin said, "I know that my optic nerve won't have more damage." The Trabectome uses an electrical current, which is guided to remove a precise layer of the tissue responsible for the blockage.

Contact USC School of Medicine, 803-434-6836 or Dr. Kenneth Mitchell.

kmitchell@gw.mp.sc.edu.

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