MONDAY, Jan. 9 (HealthDay News) -- As glaucoma progresses, so do the costs and time associated with treatment, a new Duke University Medical Center study finds.
The researchers concluded that delaying the progression of glaucoma to its later stages would reduce the overall cost of care.
Glaucoma, usually caused by high blood pressure in the eye, damages the optic nerve and can lead to loss of vision. An estimated 2.2 million Americans over the age of 40 have glaucoma, though half are not diagnosed, according to the study.
"The incidence of glaucoma is expected to rise with the growth of the elderly population. Glaucoma costs the U.S. health-care system an estimated $2.5 billion annually: $1.9 billion in direct costs and $0.6 billion in indirect costs," the authors noted.
The researchers analyzed the records of 151 people with primary open-angle or normal-tension glaucoma, glaucoma suspect or ocular hypertension to see if costs of care increased as the disease progressed.
"Direct ophthalmology-related resource use, including ophthalmology visits, glaucoma surgeries and medication use, increased as disease severity worsened," the study authors wrote.
"Average direct cost of treatment ranged from $623 per patient per year for glaucoma suspects or patients with early-stage disease to $2,511 per patient per year for patients with end-stage disease. Medication costs composed the largest proportion of total direct costs for all stages of disease," the authors wrote.
They also noted that glaucoma is, "generally asymptomatic or nonspecific in its symptoms in its earlier phases, resulting in delayed diagnosis and relatively increased medical vigilance throughout the later stages of the disease."
"Based on these findings, a glaucoma treatment that delays the progression of disease could have the potential to significantly reduce the health economic burden of this chronic disease over many years," the authors concluded.
The study appears in the January issue of the Archives of Ophthalmology.
The Glaucoma Foundation has more about glaucoma.