BY ALEEN ARSLANIAN
World Glaucoma Week, a global initiative of the World Glaucoma Association, is a week dedicated to raising awareness about a condition that can cause irreversible blindness. In an effort to help raise awareness about glaucoma, CHA Hollywood Presbyterian Medical Center Chief Medical Officer Dr. Rohit Varma, a world-renowned ophthalmologist, helps community members better understand the condition, its risk factors, and the importance of early detection.
Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to the optic nerve, which, if left untreated, can lead to loss of peripheral vision and blindness. “The main reason why people lose vision is because the pressure in the eye is too high for the optic nerve to handle,” said Dr. Varma. “The high pressure leads to a sort of death of the optic nerve cells, which then lead to permanent blindness.”
According to Dr. Varma, there are several types of glaucoma, including: open-angle form, narrow-angle form, congenital glaucoma, and juvenile open-angle glaucoma. The most common type seen all around the world is the open-angle form. “This is seen primarily in individuals 50 years or older,” noted Dr. Varma, who recommends yearly eye exams for community members with diabetes, as well as for individuals 50 years or older.
Oftentimes, race and gender may be risk factors. As Dr. Varma noted, open-angle glaucoma is commonly seen in African Americans and Hispanics, and in men and women at an equal rate, while the narrow-angle form is seen primarily in China, East Asia, India, Korea, and Vietnam, and is seen in women more often than men. The rarest forms, which affect infants and children, are congenital and juvenile open-angle glaucoma.
Although there are several forms of glaucoma, not all have early warning signs or symptoms. “Most of glaucoma is usually painless and symptomless,” said Dr. Varma. “That is why it is critically important that when one reaches the age of 50 and older, one should get a regular, complete eye exam – which includes looking at the optic nerve, checking one’s peripheral vision, and checking the eye pressure.”
Founding director of CHA HPMC’s Southern California Eye Institute, Dr. Varma highlighted that community members can get tested, diagnosed, and treated at the Institute. The SCEI provides the latest technologies and treatments related to vision care. In terms of glaucoma, the Institute offers various treatment options, including eye drops, lasers, minimally invasive operations, as well as more invasive treatments. “We are a center of excellence for eye care at HPMC,” noted Dr. Varma, who shared that the Institute has been involved in developing and testing a range of glaucoma treatments.
Marine Abelyan, a healthcare worker from Van Nuys, CA has been a patient of Dr. Varma’s for more than five years. Abelyan recalled how stressed she felt when she was first diagnosed with glaucoma. However, after receiving appropriate treatment, she now feels much happier. “Finding the right doctor can be quite difficult,” said Abelyan, who visited a number of ophthalmologists before she came across Dr. Varma and the SCEI.
Abelyan, who referred to herself as a “complicated patient that asks a lot of questions,” said that Dr. Varma provides clear, detailed explanations to her questions. “Dr. Varma is an excellent physician. Both he and the staff are kind and professional,” remarked Abelyan. “If I need to make an appointment, I call his office and they provide feedback in a timely manner and, if it’s a sort of emergency situation, they manage to fit me into the schedule. I can even go in if Dr. Varma isn’t there, because there are other doctors on staff.” According to Abelyan, the SCEI offers patients the convenience of being tested and diagnosed all in one place, as the Institute is equipped with the latest medical devices and technologies.
CHA HPMC’s SCEI is fully equipped to help community members manage their glaucoma. If tested and treated early on, vision loss may be prevented. “Glaucoma is currently the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world,” said Dr. Varma. “Its awareness is important, because it is one of these silent diseases, like cancer. If you don’t go and get it tested for, by the time you develop symptoms – meaning by the time you’ve lost so much vision – its’s already too late.”