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Dr. Mark Rubinstein is one of the Michigan Eyecare Institute doctors who performs a new form of laser eye surgery designed to treat glaucoma.

Glaucoma treatment deserves more attention

Thanks to a highly successful new optical procedure that is currently available in metro Detroit, it is now possible for those suffering from glaucoma to receive treatment that is much more successful than past methods.

An estimated three million Americans currently suffer from glaucoma, a disease which is the leading cause of blindness for African Americans.

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually takes away a person's sight-frequently without any warning or noticeable symptoms-through pressure within the eye that then causes damage to the optic nerve. Glaucoma is incurable, however it is treatable. Left untreated the subsequent loss of vision due to the disease is irreversible

Most early causes of glaucoma have traditionally been treated using surgery, laser technology or eye drops, which is the most common treatment. For more than a year, however, a new procedure has been available that has received scarce notice despite its proven track record of success. Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) uses a combination of frequencies of light allowing the laser to work at very low levels of energy and has a success rate of over 90 percent, which is far ahead of any of the other traditional procedures. Although the procedure only takes one minute, it is totally painless and has no side effects. The other procedures "were marginally successful," said Dr. Mark Rubinstein, a doctor at the Michigan Eyecare Institute, which offers the procedure at all three of its offices in Southfield, Livonia, and Dearborn. For example, the problem with the old form of laser surgery was that it caused tissue damage, whereas SLT causes no tissue damage at all. As for eyedrops, some of the side effects included breathing problems, redness, tearing and decreased vision. Additionally, most insurance companies cover SLT and will reimburse up to $300 per eye for the one-time procedure. With eyedrops the cost is around $140 per month for the rest of the patient's life.

Rubinstein noted that GDX scanning laser polymetry, which diagnoses glaucoma earlier and more effectively than other methods, has been available for about three years and SLT has been available for over a year. But the procedures are extremely underutilized because so few people have heard about the new treatment and therefore continue to rely on the older methods that don't work nearly as well.

When asked why African Americans suffer disproportionately from glaucoma-Blacks are five times more likely to suffer from glaucoma than Whites- Rubinstein said there was no known medical reason why this continues to be the case, although it could be genetic.

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