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Latest Questions and Answers
I am 21 years old, and have had myopia and astigmatism since I was 12. My eye pressure readings recently were 15 for the left eye and 18 for the right eye. These numbers are within a normal range; however, I am wondering what could be done to reduce the pressure in the right eye, since I am beginning to feel pressure there. [ 12/26/10 ]

Thank you for your question.  I would recommend that you do absolutely nothing to your right eye at this time.  It is physiologically impossible for you to feel a pressure difference of 3 mmHg (millimeters of mercury) between the eyes (especially when they are in the normal range).  In fact, the pressure in each of your eyes naturally fluctuates between 2-4 mmHg each day.  This is called a diurnal or circadian rhythm.  Until the pressure elevates into the range of 30mmHg or higher you will not likely feel anything at all, and only at these quite elevated pressures would you begin to feel pressure or pain.  Any sensation of pressure or pain in or around the eyes when the pressure is in the normal range is most likely related to sinus pressure or other issues.

In addition, the instrument that we use to check the pressure in the eye has some error, and the pressure reading may be 1-2mmHg different each time you take it.  You will be well served to watch the pressures in your eyes.  If the right eye is constantly several mmHg higher, your eye doctor may want to watch the eye more closely for any early signs of glaucoma.  At this time, as glaucoma specialists, we do not routinely recommend prophylactic treatment of eye pressure unless there are some very special circumstances.  In this case, starting you on eye drops would simply put you at risk for the side effects of the medications when there is very little chance that anything is wrong with the eyes.  That is simply not good medical practice and can actually cause more damage than good if we are not careful.  Have your eye doctor keep track of the pressure differences, but I would not recommend starting any drops at this time.


Does glaucoma cause one to feel fatigued to the point that they almost pass out and only want to sleep? After I wake up in the morning, my eyes are blurry and dry. I am tired and stressed to the point that where I am nodding off and closing my eyes or going back to sleep. Is this a common symptom of glaucoma? If not, what might be causing these symptoms? I suppose that only my doctor would know the answer, but he usually just says to keep applying the eye drops to relieve the pressure. I would appreciate it if you could provide me with any answers or helpful solutions. [ 12/25/10 ]

Thank you for your question. Glaucoma itself (i.e., pressure inside the eye that is high enough to cause damage to the optic nerve) does not cause fatigue or the feeling that you need to sleep. However, it is possible that the medications that you are taking to treat the glaucoma can cause some of these symptoms if they are absorbed into the body. The proper installation and use of eye drops is a very important thing to discuss and demonstrate for patients. Not only can it increase the efficacy of the medication but it also decreases the side effects. The most efficient method of instilling eye drops is to place a drop in the eye and then close the eyes. The other thing that we often teach our patients is to place gentle pressure on the nose just next to the lower part of the eye. Ask your doctor to demonstrate this the next time you are at the office for a visit. This helps block the tear drainage system and does two things.

  • First, the drug stays in contact with the cornea longer and allows more absorption into the eye.
  • Second, it decreases the amount that drains into the nose and throat. When the medication drains into the nose and throat it can be absorbed into the body, and the risk of side effects from the medication increases.

One of the side effects of timolol (a beta blocker found in Timoptic, Cosopt, Combigan, and a few other brands) is to decrease blood pressure and possibly heart rate. If decreased enough, it could make you feel sluggish. Your eye doctor or family doctor could take your blood pressure and heart rate before and after taking the medication to see if it is causing any changes. Brimonidine (Alphagan) can have some central nervous system effects that can cause changes in alertness as well. These tend to occur in our more elderly patients, but could occur in anyone. These are not typically symptoms that we see with prostaglandin analogs (Xalatan, Travatan, or Lumigan), but some people react differently to medications than others. It is possible under close physician supervision to change some of your medications or temporarily stop some of the medications to see if the symptoms go away or if they remain. Chances are that these episodes of extreme fatigue are likely related to something other than your medications, but you could explore this further with your eye doctor. As a note, DO NOT stop any of your medications or make changes to your drop regiment without contacting your eye doctor first and agreeing to a plan. This is only something that can be tested in the office setting and should not be done on your own.


I had a trabeculectomy almost 5 years ago at the age of 49. I have developed ptosis since the surgery. The doctor's technicians always tape my eyelid up for the visual field test. Would I be a good candidate for blepharoplasty? Could the cosmetic surgery have negative effects on my functioning bleb? Would it have been possible for me to have both surgeries at once 5 years ago? [ 12/24/10 ]

Answering the first part of your question is somewhat difficult to answer since I cannot see your eyes, the trabeculectomy site and the position of your eyelids.  Depending on how far down your eyelids droop, you may be a good candidate for a blepharoplasty.  However, I would caution that you only allow an occuloplastics trained ophthalmologist do the procedure.  More importantly, it should be someone that is comfortable working with glaucoma patients and understands the importance of allowing the lid to continue to cover the trabeculectomy bleb.  You would not want to have the lids raised too much because that could expose the bleb.  This could cause problems in the future.  Again, in my opinion, you need an occuloplastics specialist that is comfortable and experienced in evaluating patients with trabeculectomies and performing blepharoplasties on patients with trabeculectomies.

To address the last part of your question, the answer is unfortunately "no," you cannot have both at the same time.  Regardless of whether the ptosis was present prior to the trabeculectomy or was caused by the trabeculectomy, you would never do both procedures at the same time.  Ptosis can either happen naturally due to aging or in some cases it can be caused by the surgery itself.  When we do surgery on the eye, we put an eyelid speculum in to help retract the eyelids.  Without the speculum in your eyes, you would naturally want to close your eyes during surgery.  Unfortunately, any time an eyelid speculum is used, it can stretch the muscles in the eyelid and cause the eyelid to droop afterward.  However, you would not know that it was drooping until after the surgery had been completed.  Even if you had ptosis caused by aging prior to the trabeculectomy, you cannot have a blepharoplasty and a trabeculectomy at the same time because you need the trabeculectomy to heal without any other complicating factors.


I am a 60-year-old Chinese female. A few months ago, I noticed a floater in my left eye, so in October, I had my eyes checked for the first time. The eye doctor told me that my tear duct was blocked and he fixed it twice. He also told me I have an early-stage cataract and gave me eye drops (Kary Uni) to use 4 times a day, indicating that it could help delay the progression of the cataract. Is that true? What worries me most is that he said I am a glaucoma 'suspect.' The OCT, and other eye tests indicated that everything seems normal and my eye-pressure is in the 12 to 13 range. My father's elder sister had glaucoma and the doctor said I may have it too. He asked me to go back to have all the glaucoma tests again in 3 months. Is that a safe and reasonable measure? How often should I have my eyes checked? I asked him if I really have glaucoma would there be any treatment. He just said he would use eye drops. Do you think the drops will help? Thank you so much! [ 12/23/10 ]

Thank you for your question. Let's take these questions one at a time.

First, the use of Kary Uni (pirenoxine) for the treatment of cataracts is accepted in some countries; however, it is not the standard of care in the United States where I practice. To my knowledge, there have been no good randomized control trials to show its effectiveness.

A recent review article by Sekimoto and colleagues from Japan titled “Why are physicians not persuaded by scientific evidence? A “grounded theory interview study” states “Pirenoxine eye drops were first approved by the [Japanese] government in 1958 as a preventive drug for the initial stage of senile cataract. This approval was based on three studies [reference 6-8 in the Sekimoto et al manuscript], which used animal experiments and pathophysiological principles to conclude that eye drops have a preventative effect against senile cataract. The evidence-based guidelines reviewed data relevant to the treatment of cataract, recommending surgery as the definitive treatment and determining the effectiveness of eye drops to be uncertain (See Appendix of the manuscript). Based on a systematic literature review, the guidelines identified three clinical trials conducted in Japan that investigated the effectiveness of pirenoxine and glutathione eye drops, and concluded that neither demonstrated effectiveness [references 9-11 in the Sekimoto et al. manuscript]. Although these clinical trials reported that lens opacity was better in the eye drop group compared to its control, this assessment was based on a subjective measurement. There were no double-blind studies to evaluate the eye drops in terms of visual acuity and no adverse effects were reported in the trials.”

Again, no randomized control trials have been completed, so I cannot make an educated recommendation for or against their use. Until I have better evidence of its effectiveness in controlled human trials, I will not be recommending it for my patients.

Second, discussion on whether or not drops would work for you is quite premature. You don't need to worry about that until you have actually been told that you have glaucoma. Your doctor has simply stated that they are concerned that you could be at risk for developing glaucoma. Because your tests have been normal, their concern is likely because of your family history. Doctors would categorize you as a 'glaucoma suspect,' but this does not mean that you have glaucoma. Rechecking these exams in a few months is the same thing that I would do. This establishes a clear baseline so that we can identify any changes that may occur in the future.

Again, with your family history, your eye doctor is likely just being cautious. While the needs of every patient diagnosed with glaucoma or diagnosed as a glaucoma suspect is completely different, once you have been diagnosed, a plan for follow-up should be established. This can be either a plan to watch your eyes closely (for glaucoma suspects) or to begin treatment and examinations more frequently (for patients with glaucoma). Our goal as eye doctors is to identify glaucoma before you, as a patient, ever notice any changes. Your eye doctor will likely follow the intraocular pressure, vision, visual fields, and the appearance of the optic nerves at different intervals to see if there is any evidence of glaucoma that presents in the future. The frequency of examinations will depend on whether or not they see any signs of progression from your baseline studies.

If you have questions or concerns, do not hesitate to start an open dialog with your eye doctor and ask them to explain why they have chosen the particular monitoring plan that they have prescribed for you. If you are still concerned, it is always fine to ask for a second opinion from a glaucoma specialist.


I was diagnosed with open-angle glaucoma in 2002 and am searching for the cause. I have had recurring iritis and was treated for kidney disease with 80 milligrams of prednisone for months in 1995. One doctor relates the glaucoma to the chronic iritis and another doctor says it was caused by the steroids. Can doctors determine if one or both of the factors caused the glaucoma? [ 12/22/10 ]

Thank you for submitting your question.  Unfortunately, determining the exact cause in these types of cases is either very difficult or impossible.  Chronic inflammation in the eyes (iritis or uveitis) and use of steroids are two well-known causes of what we call secondary open-angle glaucoma.  This means that the glaucoma did not happen by itself but was related to another issue. On the other hand, primary open-angle glaucoma is not related to any other cause.

Secondary glaucomas such as uveitic glaucoma or steroid-induced glaucoma happen when there is a decrease in the ability of aqueous fluid in the eye to get through the trabecular meshwork.  This causes a buildup of fluid and pressure in the eye.  Determining the exact cause is more difficult.  Uveitis is a well-known cause of secondary glaucoma and may have caused your problems.  Steroid use can also cause secondary glaucoma, but it is much less common for oral steroids (compared to steroid eye drops) to cause this increased pressure.  Further, in the majority of people, once they stop using the steroids, the ability of the aqueous fluid to get through the trabecular meshwork returns to baseline and the pressure decreases.

Your doctor could give you some steroid eye drops temporarily to see if the pressure increases (i.e., try a "steroid challenge" to determine if you are a "steroid responder"), but I would not necessarily recommend it.   Even if you are a steroid responder, that would not prove whether or not the steroids caused the glaucoma in the first place (it may have been the uveitis that caused it and by chance you may also be a steroid responder).  If your pressure did NOT go up, it might tell you that the steroids are less likely to have been the cause of the increase in pressure.    Again, I would not necessarily recommend the "steroid challenge" at this point because regardless of the cause, the treatment is the same for both.  I know that sometimes we like to know "why" something happened to us, but sometimes it is safest to just understand that you can narrow it down to a couple of possibilities.


I am 30 years old, and in April of 2010 I had my first trabeculectomy in the left eye. The pressure in that eye is now 4, which concerns my doctor. She said that she may need to re-stitch it. I have the same surgery scheduled for my right eye soon; however, due to the low pressure in my left eye, my doctor will be performing the surgery without "mito." What does this mean? [ 12/21/10 ]

Thank you for your question.  Trabeculectomies are excellent surgeries, but they come with some drawbacks.  One of those drawbacks or possible complications is that the pressure does not drop to the desired target range (i.e., the pressure either remains too high or it drops too low).  Every time I discuss this surgery with my patients, I explain that we are making a new drainage system for the eye to help reduce the pressure.  We do that by creating a trap door (the trabeculectomy flap) on the white part of the eye (the sclera) and we lift that door up.  Once we have the door lifted, we create a hole into the eye so that fluid can exit the eye under the trap door and leak out onto the surface of the sclera.  We sew the trap door down for a little while because if we did not, too much fluid might escape and the pressure can be too low.  As the healing process occurs the pressure can start to creep up, so we cut a few of those stitches so that the trap door opens a bit more and we can get the pressure to our target.  Because most people heal too quickly, we have started using a drug called mitomycin C ("mito") to help slow that healing process.  All of our studies indicate that in most cases using that drug increases the likelihood that the surgery will be successful.
 
Unfortunately, not every person heals the same after a trabeculectomy.  Sometimes patients heal too well despite our best efforts.  Even though we have used mitomycin and we have cut all of the stitches on the trap door, some patients heal so well that the trap door seals itself back down and fluid cannot exit the eye.  This causes the pressure to increase.  The opposite can also occur.  Sometimes, people simply do not heal well and there is too much fluid that escapes from the trap door.  In these cases, we often have to re-stitch the trap door and make it a bit tighter.  In addition, because we know that these patients have a tendency not to heal quickly, we may not use the mitomycin C on the second eye (just as your doctor has suggested).  If you have a tendency to heal slowly, as you have already proven in the left eye, there is no need for the mitomycin C and using it would simply put you at risk for having pressure that is too low in that eye as well.   It sounds like your eye doctor is doing a good job of recognizing your healing pattern and changing his or her plan accordingly.  I wish you the best of luck.


After applying timolol and Azopt to my eyes, does water or soap from a bath have any impact on the effectiveness of the eye drops? [ 12/20/10 ]

Thank you for your question. The proper installation and use of eye drops is a very important thing to discuss and demonstrate for patients. Not only can it increase the efficacy of the medication but it also decreases the side effects. The most efficient method of instilling eye drops is to place a drop in the eye and then close the eyes. The other thing that we often teach our patients is to place gentle pressure on the nose just next to the lower part of the eye. Ask your doctor to demonstrate this the next time you are at the office for a visit. This helps block the tear drainage system and does two things:

  • First, the drug stays in contact with the cornea longer and allows more absorption into the eye.
  • Second, it decreases the amount of the eye drop that drains into the nose and throat. When the medication drains into the nose and throat it can be absorbed into the body, and the risk of side effects from the medication increases.

Finally, we typically tell our patients to wait a full 5 minutes between using different eye drops (in your case timolol and Azopt) or wait 5 minutes after the last drop before cleaning the eyelids or getting water in the eyes (taking a shower or bath). Most of the medication that will be absorbed into the eye will have done so within that 5 minute window. After waiting those 5 minutes, you can gently clean your eyelids. Always avoid getting soap in your eye if possible because it hurts and it is irritating to the eyes.


I am a 31-year-old woman who has glaucoma and was told that I have a defective photoreceptor layer in the retina. What is a defective photoreceptor layer? [ 12/16/10 ]

Glaucoma is a disease that causes damage to the nerve that connects the eye to the brain, called the optic nerve. The optic nerve is composed of retinal nerve fibers, which often thin with glaucoma. The more retinal nerve fibers you lose, the worse your glaucoma.  A defective photoreceptor layer can occur in a variety of retinal diseases, and is not usually related to glaucoma. The photoreceptor layer is part of the retina that converts light into an electrical signal, which then travels to your brain. A variety of diseases can cause a defective photoreceptor layer such a retinal dystrophy and retinal degeneration, so the best thing is to ask your eye doctor about what exactly is causing the defective photoreceptor layer.


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Disclaimer: The information provided here is a public service of the BrightFocus Foundation and should not in any way substitute for the advice of a qualified healthcare professional; it is not intended to constitute medical advice. Please consult your physician for personalized medical advice. BrightFocus Foundation does not endorse any medical product or therapy. All medications and supplements should only be taken under medical supervision. Also, although we make every effort to keep the medical information on our website updated, we cannot guarantee that the posted information reflects the most up-to-date research.

Some of the content in this section is adapted from other sources, which are clearly identified within each individual item of information.

Last Review: 04/28/13


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