Lifewatch: Glaucoma

DUKE -- Glaucoma has robbed the vision of thousands of Americans, and there's no cure.

But, Duke University has developed new technology that may help doctors detect it early enough to prevent it.

Doctors at the Duke Eye Center were able to detect 71-year-old Martha Zollicoffer's risk for glaucoma with a one of a kind imaging device.

"This new instrument that we have designed here at Duke in collaboration with biomedical engineering allows us to look at the drain structures of the eyeball without touching the eyeball," said Dr. Sanjay Asrani a glaucoma specialist.

The new device helps to detect narrow angle glaucoma which is the most serious form of the disease.

Glaucoma puts pressure on the optic nerve, affecting nearly 500,000 people in the United States.  But, because it causes irreversible blindness, it is very important to catch it early.

"If diagnosed 15 to 20 years before the glaucoma occurs, we can almost prevent this glaucoma from happening," said Dr. Asrani.

Patients can get an attack of glaucoma where the pressure in the eye suddenly goes up to a very high level.

If the attack is not treated immediately, the patient can go blind within a few hours.

"Those patients are preventatively treated with a two-minute laser procedure that is done in the office that can eliminate the risk of this kind of glaucoma," said Dr. Asrani.

Right now, Duke Eye Center is the only facility with this technology.  But Dr. Asrani says without the device, doctors may miss the warning signs.

Reported by Kristy Ondo