The News
Sunday 21 of July 2024

The Disease You Don't See Coming

Glaucoma affects about 1.3 million Mexicans


It’s silent, it has no easily discernible symptoms, and it is one of the most common causes of irreversible blindness in Mexico.

And of the roughly 1.3 million Mexicans who are inflicted with glaucoma, less than half even know they have the disease, according to ABC Medical Center ophthalmologist Patricia Villalba Ortiz.

While glaucoma is not curable, it can be treated and vision loss can be prevented if the disease is detected and treated early.

Duke Eye Center opthamologist Dr. Sanjay Asrani (cq), left, uses an relatively new investigative/diagnostic tool, the OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography - CQ) device (center and background), which makes a very high resolution interior scan in ambient light of a patient's eye. Duke Eye Center glaucoma patient Sandra Naylor (cq) of Raleigh, right, came in Wednesday for a session to confirm that laser surgery would be necessary to correct a potentially blinding form of narrow angle glaucoma (cq). The high resolution scan is projected on the flatscreen in background, which shows Naylor's cornea and iris in profile. This early Fourier Domain (cq) OCT device was developed between Dr. Asrani and Duke professor of biomechanical engineering Joesph Izatt (cq) and his research staff. Staff photo by Harry Lynch/The News & Observer
Duke Eye Center opthamologist Dr. Sanjay Asrani (cq), left, uses an relatively new investigative/diagnostic tool, the OCT (Optical Coherence Tomography. Photo: The News & Observer/Harry Lynch.

“Glaucoma is a disease that leads to the progressive erosion of the optic nerve, which in turn leads to a loss in the field and quality of vision,” Villalba Ortiz told The News in an interview at the hospital complex’s Observatorio campus.

The most common form of glaucoma — primary open-angle glaucoma — is associated with an increase in the fluid pressure inside the eye.

This increased pressure can erode the optic nerve fibers that allow the brain to translate what the eye sees into an image.

Villalba Ortiz said that anyone can get glaucoma, but there are a number of factors that can make them more susceptible to the disease, including age (over 40), genetic predisposition (blacks and Latinos are more likely to have glaucoma than Caucasians), family history, tobacco consumption, diabetes, high blood pressure and the prolonged use of corticosteroids.

“Of course, the best treatment is prevention, which means living a healthy lifestyle,” she said, “but everyone should get a thorough annual eye exam to check their visual health.”

Because there are no early symptoms of glaucoma, Villalba Ortiz said the only way to be sure to catch it in its early stages is through an eye examination.

“The problem is that most people don’t bother to have an annual exam by an ophthalmologist,” she said.

Because the most common eye disorder is poor vision due to nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia) or astigmatism, many people will only have their eyes checked by an optometrist, who is not trained to administer more extensive eye exams, Villalba Ortiz said.

She said that less than five percent of Mexicans have an annual exam by an ophthalmologist.

Consequently, she said, thousands of Mexicans lose their eyesight needlessly to the disease.

The exam itself is simple and painless, and can usually be conducted at your ophthalmologist’s office in a few minutes.

She or he will apply eye drops that will dilate your pupils so that they can better visualize the optic nerve for potential damage.

They will also measure the pressure in the eye, through a special tonometry machine.

The two most common types of glaucoma are open angle and closed angle, both resulting from changes in the pressure of the eye that causes damage to the optic nerve.

Woman receives eye exam. Photo: ABC Medical Center

What keeps that pressure at a healthy level is called aqueous humor fluid, which flows through the front porous part of your eye.

If the porous area becomes blocked and the fluid is unable to drain out through a small duct, then your eye pressure can rise, causing open angle glaucoma.

Closed angle glaucoma happens when there a structural change in the iris blocking the angle of the drainage path of aqueous fluid.

In most cases, glaucoma can be treated with simple eye drops, applied once or twice a day to slow the progression of the disease, Villalba Ortiz said, but in some more difficult or advanced cases surgery may be required.

“Surgery is the last resort,” she said. “It is a complicated procedure to build an alternate route for the drainage. Your best option is to get an annual eye exam so that, if you do have the disease, you can detect it early and treat it with eye drops.”

More information

The ABC Medical Center has two campuses. The Observatorio campus is located at Sur 136 No. 116 in Colonia Las Américas (tel: 5230-8000), and the Santa Fe campus is located at Carlos Graef Fernández 154 in Colonia Tlaxcala Santa Fe in Cuajimalpa (tel: 1103-1600).

The ABC is a member of the Methodist International Hospital Network, which is headquartered in Houston, Texas.

For more information, contact the ABC’s webpage at