In the Blink of an Eye

Glaucoma blinds before most owners even notice a problem, but gene therapy offers hope.

By Jo Rossman | Posted: Tue Dec 12 00:00:00 PST 2000

Page 4 of 7


Two weeks later, the second veterinarian diagnosed Patches with glaucoma. Prescribed medications, such as epinephrine, pilocarpine and synthetic epinephrine-like drops to reduce fluid production in the eye, and a number of homeopathic treatments, including acupuncture and liver supplements, failed to halt the disease, and Patches was totally blind within a year of the first symptoms. "I'm a nurturer," Orr said. "I want to make everything better for everybody. This is something I couldn't make better, and I tried everything. I'm out of people to go to now. I always said I'd be the last one to give up on him, and I guess I'll have to give up because I don't think you can bring eyesight back once it's gone."

Conventional medicine agreed with heruntil now. Destroyed tissue that doesn't regenerate causes the loss of vision in glaucoma patients. Researchers now are seeking ways to help the retinathe sensitive layer of cells at the back of the eye that turns light into electrical signals for the brainregenerate and to prevent damage during bouts of intraocular pressure. But solutions are still several years away, Dr. Gelatt said.

One reason so many dogs with glaucoma lose their sight quickly is the relatively late diagnosis. "Dogs with inherited primary glaucoma tend to have a slow onset of drainage problems," Dr. Knudson said. "Sometimes all people notice will be a dilated pupil or kind of a glassy-eyed look and then maybe some vision loss."

In many breeds, such as the Cocker Spaniel, the onset of glaucoma is tipped off by occasionally having some redness or cloudiness to the eye that comes and goes within a day or so. "What we assume is happening is bouts of increased pressure tha t resolve themselves, but the disease is cooking," Dr. Gelatt said.

Glaucoma often manifests itself as a headache that won't go away. Because dogs can't say they're in pain, they may act like they don't want to be petted on the head or may simply lie around, avoiding people. "These are vague signs," Dr. Gelatt said. "A lot of people would say, 'Well, maybe he's just grouchy today.' And they don't relate it to the eye."

Veterinarians diagnose most dogs when the eye is enlarged. "When that is happening, the disease is moderately advanced, so your chances of successful treatment are low," Dr. Gelatt said.

To detect glaucoma earlier, Dr. Gelatt recommends occasional tonometrymeasuring of pressure within the eye. Usually only board-certified veterinary ophthalmologists use the most accurate tonometers due to their cost to the veterinarian (about $2,500). But general veterinarians can perform the procedure with a $200 version of the more accurate high-end tonometer.

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