Ask an Expert about Glaucoma
My 7 year old has uveitis that is associated with juvenile idiopathic arthritis (JIA). She was diagnosed 5 years ago, and has been using steroid eye drops, Timoptol, oral steroids, methotrexate and Humira. The inflammation is finally under control, but my ophthalmologist has said that even though we are starting to come off steroids (she's a steroid responder) her pressure may not return to normal, and they may need to insert a “drain.” My daughter was in the doctor’s office, so I couldn't ask too many questions. Can you please answer the questions below? [ 05/06/11 ]
First, let me say that I am sorry that you and your child are going through while she is so young. I hope everything turns out well. Unfortunately, these cases can sometimes be quite difficult to manage, so routine follow-up with a pediatric glaucoma specialist will be of utmost importance. Given the fact that your daughter is so young and has so many years of life ahead of her, it is important to control the glaucoma as well as possible to preserve as much vision as possible. Let me try to answer your questions one at a time.
- Is it a complicated operation? The operation itself is really not technically difficult from the surgeon's standpoint as long as the eye anatomy is relatively normal. I typically tell my patients that it takes an hour to 90 minutes in most cases. Some surgeries are more complex than others, but for the most part, if your daughter's only problem is JIA and uveitic glaucoma, the surgery should not be technically difficult.
- Are there side effects? Absolutely. There is not a single medication or surgical procedure that does NOT have side effects. Any time we recommend a treatment or surgery, we discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives of the treatment or surgery. Risks for the glaucoma drain or glaucoma valve include (but is not limited to) pain, bleeding, infection, double vision, pressure being too low after surgery which can cause some problems, pressure not being low enough after surgery, need for further surgery because the pressure is too low or too high, loss of vision, loss of the eye, or death (any surgery that involves anesthesia must include risk of death in the discussion even though it is incredibly low). Each of these risks is relatively low; however the risks are real. You need to have a full discussion with your eye doctor before agreeing to have the surgery. I suggest that you have your daughter step out of the room or make a separate appointment without your daughter to discuss the risks. In addition, you can also discuss alternative treatments or no treatments at all (although if the pressure is elevated that would likely mean loss of vision eventually). Again, you will need to have a full discussion with your doctor prior to the surgery.
- Where does the fluid from this drain go? I tell my patients that the eye is like a baseball (the sclera) wrapped in saran wrap (the conjunctiva). During the surgery, we cut a hole in the conjunctiva and attach a small plate with a tube to the sclera at the top of the eye between the muscles. The tube is then tunneled into the front of the eye and we cover that with some tissue. We then sew the conjunctiva back and it heals over. The fluid travels from inside the eye, down the tube (drain), and onto the plate and is released on top of the eye (but under the conjunctiva). The body then reabsorbs the fluid naturally and the pressure goes down.
- Will her eye look different after the surgery? Possibly. There is always a risk for the lid drooping slightly (ptosis) or being slightly fuller than the other side (there is a plate under the eyelid and on top of the eye). In addition, the tube is covered with a piece of tissue (either donor sclera or another material) and that tissue is white. You can often lift the lid and see that white piece of tissue covering the tube. Some doctors are now covering these with donor corneas. The advantage is that it is a clear piece of tissue and is less noticeable, but it does cost a bit more.
- Will her vision be affected? If the pressure is not reduced and there is evidence of glaucoma, then yes her vision will likely continue to decline. If you chose to do the drain, there is a possibility of having double vision because the plate sits between the two muscles and does take up some space. Otherwise, the drain itself does not usually cause changes in vision. As mentioned previously, this surgery can cause the pressure to be too low or not low enough. Too low and the vision can be changed (and possibly require further surgery). Too high and you are back to needing further surgery or drops to get the pressure down to the target
I hope this helps. I know this can be a difficult time. I suggest that you take time to have a long discussion with your eye doctor regarding your child's risks, benefits, and alternatives. There will be risks, but it is important to be informed going into the surgery. No surgery is perfect and there is always a chance that a single surgery or treatment will not be enough; however, in most cases eye doctors can eventually control the pressure. I wish the best of luck to both of you.
I used artificial tear drops once daily along with Travatan Z. I suffer from glaucoma in both eyes, and they are also both swollen. Why are my eyes swollen? Are there other eye drops that you would recommend? Also, do you know where I can get discounts for the artificial tears? [ 05/05/11 ]
Thank you for your question. The prostaglandin analog medications (Travatan, Lumigan and Xalatan) do have a variety of side effects. Determining whether or not the swelling is from the medication or another reason is likely very difficult (often our eyelids look more swollen as we age, so it could just be a natural part of aging). Without having examined your eyes before and after starting Travatan, it is impossible for me to give any recommendation. Further, I would need results of your previous tests, the results of new tests, and your chart history before making any recommendations on new eye drops. Unfortunately, I don't know of any places that have discounts for artificial tears, but you can ask your eye doctor if they have any samples.
For completeness, I have included the Travatan Z side effect profile from the insert with my lay explaination IN CAPITAL LETTERS. Note eyelid swelling is not listed as one of the common side effects.
The most common adverse reaction observed in controlled clinical studies with Travatan (travoprost ophthalmic solution) 0.004% and TravatanZ® (travoprost ophthalmic solution) 0.004% was ocular hyperemia (REDNESS OF THE EYES) which was reported in 30 to 50% of patients. Up to 3% of patients discontinued therapy due to conjunctival hyperemia (REDNESS OF THE EYES). Ocular adverse reactions reported at an incidence of 5 to 10% in these clinical studies included decreased visual acuity, eye discomfort, foreign body sensation (FEELING OF SAND, GRIT OR DIRT IN THE EYE), pain and pruritus (ITCHING).
Ocular adverse reactions reported at an incidence of 1 to 4% in clinical studies with Travatan® or TravatanZ® included abnormal vision, blepharitis (SIMILAR TO DANDRUFF OF THE EYELASHES), blurred vision, cataract, conjunctivitis, corneal staining, dry eye, iris discoloration (CHANGE IN THE COLOR OF THE EYE), keratitis (CHANGES IN THE CORNEA OF THE EYE), lid margin crusting (SIMILAR TO THE BLEPHARITIS), ocular inflammation, photophobia (SENSITIVITY TO LIGHT), subconjunctival hemorrhage (A BLOOD VESSEL BETWEEN THE CONJUNCTIVA AND SCLERA BREAKING AND BLEEDING A LITTLE) and tearing.
Nonocular adverse reactions reported at an incidence of 1 to 5% in these clinical studies were allergy, angina pectoris (CHEST PAIN), anxiety, arthritis, back pain, bradycardia (SLOW HEART RATE), bronchitis, chest pain, cold/flu syndrome, depression, dyspepsia (UPSET STOMACH), gastrointestinal disorder, headache, hypercholesterolemia (HIGH CHOLESTEROL), hypertension (HIGH BLOOD PRESSURE), hypotension (LOW BLOOD PRESSURE), infection, pain, prostate disorder, sinusitis, urinary incontinence and urinary tract infections.
As you can see, this is quite a list, and the reality is that Travatan does not cause all of these problems. The FDA is obligated to include any symptom that any patient has during the trial of the drug and list it as a side effect. If the patient was taking the medication during the trials and their child came home with a cold from daycare and passed it to their parents, the FDA would list cold/flu syndrome on the side effect list even though there was really no reason that the drug caused it. I suggest you ask you eye doctor if they believe the swelling is related to the medication or another reason. I wish you the best of luck.
I am 78-years-old and have the early stages of glaucoma. I have been taking Travatan for approximately 2 months and my eye doctor is pleased with the results so far. I have recently been prescribed the drug Vesicare from my primary care physician, and wonder if this drug will affect the glaucoma or conflict with the Travatan. [ 05/04/11 ]
Thank you for your question. I looked for interactions between Travatan and Vesicare on Drugs.com. They have a relatively comprehensive site for determining drug interactions, and the search did not find any. I recommend that you contact your pharmacy and ask them to also run an interaction check for these medications. Often pharmacists have access to larger data bases and may recognize interactions within their systems more quickly. I wish you the best of luck.
If the pressure in my right eye is holding around 24, and the optic nerve does not show any signs of glaucoma, are eye drops still recommended? I do have glaucoma in the left eye. [ 05/03/11 ]
Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, in this particular situation, it is impossible for me to tell if you have glaucoma or ocular hypertension in your right eye; however, given the fact that glaucoma often occurs in both eyes, you may simply be in the earliest stages and the doctors cannot detect any changes. Further, without having examined your eyes myself and having seen the results of previous tests, it would be difficult for me to give you an accurate answer. Glaucoma is classically defined as a stereotypical pattern of damage to the optic nerve and certain layers of the retina. Elevated intraocular pressure is a risk factor for glaucoma, but just because the pressure is elevated it does not mean you have glaucoma. Often people with elevated intraocular pressure alone, and no other signs of glaucoma, are given the diagnosis of ocular hypertension. Similarly, just because the intraocular pressure is normal, this does not mean that someone cannot have glaucoma. Doctors often see patients with glaucoma that have never had increased intraocular pressure, and they are given the diagnosis of "normal-tension glaucoma."
Your eye doctor will likely follow the intraocular pressure, vision, visual fields, and the appearance of the optic nerves to see if there is any evidence of glaucoma that presents in the future. Unfortunately, we cannot look into the future to find out if you will be one of the fortunate people with ocular hypertension that never develops glaucoma in the second eye, or if you will eventually develop this eye disease. I often give my patients two options. First, you can either start a medication now, or you can wait. Unfortunately, only you can make this decision.
When I tell patients that I am considering changing medications or recommending a new therapy, I always discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives with them. First, your doctor needs to discuss what medication he would consider starting you on. If it is a prostaglandin, then he will likely discuss the fact that it can make your eyes red, change the color of the eyes or the color of the skin around the eyes, etc. If he were to choose a beta blocker, he would likely discuss the fact that you could have symptoms of feeling lightheaded or have a drop in your blood pressure. Also, he would need to know if you have asthma or any other pulmonary issues, etc.
The benefit of starting therapy is that the intraocular pressure will likely be lowered. Lowering eye pressure is the only way we have of possibly preventing or slowing the onset of glaucoma. The alternative is to do nothing and continue to examine the eye to see if it continues to progress to the point that you can be definitively diagnosed with glaucoma. The real question is whether you want to start taking medications now and risk possible side effects from the medicine, even though the doctors have not officially given you a diagnosis of glaucoma, or whether you would rather wait until they can definitively say that you have glaucoma before starting treatment. That is something that only you can decide. I have some patients that would rather know they are trying to do something to prevent any loss of vision even though they may not have glaucoma. Others say that they want to avoid using medications as long as possible and want more definitive proof that they have glaucoma before using drops. Either route is fine as long as you are comfortable with the choice. Best of luck with making this decision, and I encourage you to discuss the risks, benefits and alternatives with your eye doctor.
What was the primary treatment for glaucoma in the 1940s? My grandmother had glaucoma and became blind. I have the eye disease now and take TravatanZ. [ 05/02/11 ]
Treatment for glaucoma in the 1940s was quite different from treatment now. Essentially eye doctors only had a couple of eye drops options available to them. There were also a few topical medications in use at that time; however, both had some pretty bad side effects. Topical pilocarpine was used quite frequently, but often caused a slight change in vision, headaches, and constriction of the pupil. In addition it had to be instilled in the eye multiple times during the day. Worse yet, if patients were near sighted (myopic) there was a slight chance of retinal detachment. Even with these side effects, there are still some patients on this medication that do quite well. In addition to pilocarpine, some people also used topical epinephrine. There were fewer side effects, but it did not work quite as well. In the 1950s, oral carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (Diamox) were used in a few patients, but the major breakthrough in topical treatment of glaucoma came in the late 1970s when timolol was introduced. Timolol essentially became the drug of choice for almost everyone. From the 1980s forward, we have seen the addition of topical carbonic anhydrase inhibitors (Trusopt, Azopt), alpha agonists (brimonidine, Alphagan), prostaglandin analogs (Travatan, Xalatan, Lumigan), and combintions of these drugs. Obviously, laser therapy was not available in the 1940, but surgical correction of glaucoma was attempted. Surgeries similar to trabeculectomies were being performed to varying degrees of success. The trabeculectomy and glaucoma valve surgeries as we know it did not really start until the 1960s. Your treatment options are much better today than your grandmother in the 1940s; however, the goal to reduce eye pressure is still the same. I wish you the best of luck, and our older glaucoma specialists would like to thank you for the walk down memory lane.
My wife of 65 years had surgery for narrow-angle glaucoma in both eyes. Subsequently, she had cataract surgery. Her IOP was 16/17 mmHg with Travatan, but the doctor prescribed Travacom. She experiences some blurry vision, heaviness and a “stretchy” effect in the left eye. Would you advise her to switch over to Travatan if IOP remains in the 16 – 17 range? Are the side effects related to Timolet (which is in the Travacom)? I would appreciate your input. Also, she recently had a slight abbess in her gums, and the dentist gave her 500 milligrams of phexin. Would you mind letting me know if this medication has any adverse effects on her vision? She took two capsules each day for three days only. Thanks a lot and GOD bless you as your support is very useful. [ 05/01/11 ]
Thank you for your question. I am sorry that your wife is having troubles. Unfortunately without personally examining your wife and looking at the results of some of her previous tests, I am unable to give you an exact recommendation. It sounds as though the pressure was around the 16-17 range on Travatan alone, but the doctor appeared to want the pressure slightly lower. If that is the case, then I would not recommend returning to just the use of Travatan. Essentially, you will need to know what the target pressure is (and only her doctor would know that from his or examination and looking at the results of her tests). By changing the drops to Travacom, the eye doctor was using a combination of two medications (Travatan and Timolol). It is difficult to tell what the “heaviness or stretchiness” is, but I seriously doubt this is related to the timolol component. In addition, it is rare for timolol to cause a change in vision. You might watch this closely and see if it does not disappear over time. As for the phexin, that should not have any impact on your wife's eye pressure. I hope this is helpful.
Would an eye transplant work for a glaucoma patient? [ 04/30/11 ]
Thank you for your question. This is a question that often comes up in our clinic, especially given the new advances we have begun to make in research. Unfortunately, at this time, an eye transplant is impossible. Millions of individual cells in the retina (called retinal ganglion cells) collect and exit the back of the eye to carry light and vision information to the brain. Once these cells travel out of the eye and carry visual information to the brain, they are collectively called the optic nerve. The retinal ganglion cells (i.e., the optic nerve) are damaged in glaucoma. Those cells project back to very specific areas in the brain, and unfortunately, once they have died we cannot make them function again. In addition, in order for an eye transplant to work we would have to connect the new eye either to a healthy optic nerve (and get all of the millions of connections correct) or get the connections back to the correct cells in the brain (again, this is millions of cells that would have to connect to the correct targets). Unfortunately, we just are not there yet. The good news is that there is currently a lot of research using stem cells, and they show great promise in this area of research. Hopefully, some of this stem cell work will eventually allow regeneration of nerve tissue or allow eye transplants; however, I would estimate we are decades (and maybe even a century or two) from that concept becoming a reality. I am sorry I don't have better news for you.
Is it unusual for a 21-year-old woman to have acute glaucoma? Can she survive this disease? [ 04/29/11 ]
Thanks you for your question. The simple answer to your question is that glaucoma can happen at any age for a variety of reasons. In one respect you are correct to question the timing because primary open-angle glaucoma is a disease that usually affects older adults. It would be unusual for her to have this form of glaucoma at this age, but not impossible. Unfortunately there are many different types of glaucoma (in fact, some experts suggest that there may be hundreds or thousands of different types of glaucoma). While primary open-angle glaucoma is typically found in adults, there are other types of glaucoma that are found in young adults, younger children (juvenile open-angle glaucoma) and even babies as soon as they are born (congenital glaucoma). Because she was diagnosed at the age of 21, she most likely does not have congenital glaucoma. Without having examined her eyes myself and seeing the results of her tests, giving an exact diagnosis is impossible. However, given her age, the most likely cause of her glaucoma is either a juvenile-like glaucoma or glaucoma caused by another factor (i.e., pigmentary glaucoma, angle-recession glaucoma after having trauma to the eye, or steroid-induced glaucoma if she takes any medications with steroids, for example). I suggest that you discuss this with your doctor during the next visit and ask what specific type of glaucoma she has.
To answer the second part of your question, I assume that you mean to ask if she will lose her vision, because glaucoma is not a fatal disease. Once a thorough eye exam has been completed, eye doctors often set a target or goal intraocular pressure. The only variable that doctors can change to slow or stop the progression of glaucoma is the intraocular pressure. To achieve this goal, they can employ the use of medicated eye drops, laser treatments, and surgical methods. Your doctor will follow the intraocular pressure, vision, visual fields, and the appearance of the optic nerves to see how her eyes respond. If the pressure is not reduced enough or her doctor ever notices advancement in your glaucoma, they will add more medications or use laser or surgery to help lower the intraocular pressure further. If someone is diagnosed very early, the eye doctor's goal is to begin treatment and hopefully prevent the person from ever noticing any changes in vision. For those that have worse glaucoma, it is often possible to lower the pressure enough to stop or dramatically slow the loss of vision; however, this may take multiple surgeries, lasers, or medicines (and likely a combination of these three). In some cases, we cannot stop the progression of the glaucoma and our patients do eventually go blind, but this is the minority of patients. I wish the best of luck to both of you.
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Last Review: 04/28/13