Ask an Expert about Glaucoma
I have secondary glaucoma due to cataract surgeries, and the doctors suspect that I also have Marfan syndrome. The glaucoma was diagnosed when I was 36, and I currently take Xalatan and bromonidine. I hope to continue driving and working, so I would like to know how long I can expect to maintain my vision. [ 03/29/11 ]
Thank you for your question; it sounds as though you have been through quite a bit at a relatively young age. There are a lot of different types of glaucoma, and they can progress at different rates. Some types of glaucoma, like angle-closure glaucoma,can progress quickly if the pressure isincredibly high, and vision loss can occur within days or weeks. Other types of glaucoma are quite slow and it may take months or years before there is any evidence of vision loss. It is difficult to predict what course your glaucoma will take; that is why it is important to seethe eye doctor regularly and not miss the appointments. Once a thorough eye exam has been completed,the eye doctor will often set a target or goal intraocular pressure. The only variable that doctors can change to slow or stop the progression of your glaucoma isthe intraocular pressure, and to achieve this goal, there are essentially three different tools available: medicated eye drops, laser treatments, and surgical methods. Your doctor has started you on two eye dropsand willfollow the intraocular pressure, vision, visual fields, and the appearance of the optic nerves to see how your eyes respond. If the pressure is not reduced enough or your doctor ever notices advancement in your glaucoma, they will add more medications or use laser or surgery to help lower the intraocular pressure further. In the majority of patients, it is possible to lower the pressure enough to stop or dramatically slow the loss of vision; however, this may take multiple surgeries, laser treatments, or medicines (and likely a combination of these three).
Given that you are quite young and likely have decades of life ahead of you, it will be important to maintain a close watch on the intraocular pressures for the rest of your life and keep them very well controlled. Unfortunately, any vision that is lost due to glaucoma cannot be regained, so this is something that you will be dealing with the remainder of your life, and it is important to aggressively lower the pressure now and not wait to see evidence of further damage. I wish you the best of luck.
I wanted to know if moderate alcohol consumption can, in any way, affect the longevity of a trabeculectomy. [ 03/28/11 ]
Thank you for your question. I have been asked many times whether or not alcohol consumption causes glaucoma, but never its effect on trabeculectomy longevity. Unfortunately, the short answer to your question is that after searching the literature, I could not find any studies that have addressed this subject. In general, when my patients ask about the connection between alcohol consumption and glaucoma, I tell them the following:
First, the most recent large study looking at the risk of alcohol consumption and the diagnosis of glaucoma were published in 2007 out of Harvard Medical School. The study examined 80,486 female nurses followed from 1980 to 1986 as part of the prospective, longitudinal Nurse's Health Study, and 42,251 male healthcare professionals who were followed from 1986 to 2002. The final conclusion of this study was that the amount of alcohol consumed by an individual did not influence the risk of being diagnosed with glaucoma.
This brings up a second different question however, and that is whether or not alcohol consumption has an impact on intraocular pressure. The answer to that question is yes. Alcohol consumption can lower intraocular pressure for a short time; however, it should never be used as a method of treating glaucoma or increased intraocular pressure. This is important for patients with glaucoma or patients that are currently being followed because the eye doctor is concerned that the patient may develop glaucoma in the future (i.e., a 'glaucoma suspect'). It is important that you do not consume alcohol prior to your doctor's visit as this may falsely lower your intraocular pressure and make monitoring or diagnosing glaucoma more difficult.
I am sorry that I could not answer your question directly, but to my knowledge, there are no studies that have ever addressed that specific issue. I hope that the other information is helpful.
I have advanced glaucoma in the right eye. Treatment has included many eye drops and laser surgery. There is a great deal of optic nerve damage and my doctor wants to do a trabeculectomy on my right eye. After researching this procedure, I am now afraid, and would like to know if there are any non-invasive treatment options. Thank you for your help. [ 03/27/11 ]
Thank you for your question. There are a lot of different types of glaucoma, and they can progress at different rates. Intraocular pressure is the only variable that we can change to either slow or stop the progression of your glaucoma. To achieve this goal, there are essentially three different tools that doctors can use. There are medicated eye drops, laser treatments, and surgical methods to lower the intraocular pressure. In most cases, it is often possible to lower the pressure enough to stop or dramatically slow the loss of vision; but this may take multiple surgeries, lasers, or medicines (and likely a combination of all three).
Once a thorough eye exam has been completed, eye doctors often set a target or goal intraocular pressure. Your doctor will follow the intraocular pressure, vision, visual fields, and the appearance of the optic nerves to see how your eyes respond. If the pressure is not reduced enough or your doctor ever notices advancement in your glaucoma, they will add more medications (if they can) or use laser (one or more times) to help lower the intraocular pressure further. Unfortunately, sometimes medications and laser do not lower the pressure enough and surgical options are needed. Unfortunately, medications and laser are the only non-invasive treatment options that we have, and it appears that you have already maximized these options. You may not be at your target eye pressure or your glaucoma is still progressing, and in these cases, unfortunately, the only remaining options are surgical. Your doctor should discuss the risks, benefits and alternatives of each surgical option and why they think one specific surgery (trabeculectomy) is the best option for you. It sounds as though you have tried all other options and this has not lowered the pressure sufficiently. If the eye pressure is not lowered further, you may eventually lose vision in that right eye. It sounds as though surgery is the next best option for you; however, if you are concerned, it is always acceptable to ask for a second opinion. I wish you the best of luck; I know this is often a difficult time for patients.
My 13-year-old sister has uveitis, and last week they told us that she has uveitic glaucoma. The tests indicate that her optic nerve is healthy. The glaucoma specialist gave her eye drops and we need to go back next week. Right now her uveitis is under control, but her eye pressure is 28. If the pressure is still high next month, she will start new eye drops that may cause a uveitis flare. Will the glaucoma cause vision loss? We are terrified of this possibility. [ 03/26/11 ]
Thank you for your question. Unfortunately, without having examined your sister myself, learned more about her medical background (other possible diseases that she may have), reviewed her history and exam findings (including blood work) it is nearly impossible for me to provide an accurate assessment for your sister. Even with an accurate diagnosis to define why she has uveitis, this does not always help us predict whether or not she will lose vision from the glaucoma. Chronic inflammation in the eyes (iritis or uveitis) and use of steroids (the treatment for uveitis) are two well-known causes of what doctors call “secondary open-angle glaucoma.” This means that the glaucoma did not happen by itself but was related to another issue. If there was no other factor that caused the glaucoma, we would call that “primary open-angle glaucoma.” Secondary glaucomas such as uveitic glaucoma or steroid-induced glaucoma happen when the ability of aqueous fluid in the eye to get through the trabecular meshwork is decreased. 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 sister's problems. Steroid use for the treatment of the uveitis can also cause an increase in eye pressure, and in some people will also cause a secondary glaucoma.
While it sounds as though the optic nerve is healthy at this point, it is important to get the pressure lower so that optic nerve damage and vision loss does not occur. This can be accomplished by using eye drops (like she is currently using) or adding more drops in the future, if needed. The medication that they are considering is like a prostaglandin analog (Xalatan, Travatan, or Lumigan) and it can cause a rebound inflammation. If the doctors decide to use this drop, they will watch the severity of the uveitis very carefully to ensure that it is not making the uveitis worse. If the drops do not work, there are always surgical options to help lower the pressure and prevent vision loss as well. Unfortunately, we cannot predict the path that your sister will take, but you should know that we have a lot of different treatment options available to help her. It sounds as though her doctors have done an excellent job in recognizing both the uveitis, but also the increase in intraocular pressure. They have a good plan in place to try to decrease that pressure as well. If you or your family is concerned, it is always acceptable to ask for a second opinion from a glaucoma specialist, if you are not already seeing one. I wish the best of luck to your sister and your family.
I have glaucoma and I have had laser surgery in both eyes. My right eye has lost all vision, and would like to know how to maintain the vision in my “good” eye. I appreciate your help. [ 03/25/11 ]
While every patient diagnosed with glaucoma 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 or to begin new treatments. All of this depends on how advanced the glaucoma is and how much damage has been done to the eyes. As an example, immediately after surgery, I may see my patients 1-2 times per week until they are stable. For those patients with advanced glaucoma (like yourself), and uncontrolled intraocular pressure, I may see them several times per month if we are making changes to their eye drops or we are considering surgery. Other patients that are glaucoma suspects, or patients with mild glaucoma that has been stable for several years with no changes in intraocular pressure, may be seen 1or 2 times per year. The goal of eye doctors is to identify glaucoma progression before you, as a patient, ever notice any further 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 progression that presents in the future. The frequency of examinations will depend on how advanced the glaucoma is and how well you are responding to treatment. Taking all of your medications, not missing any drops and always going to the scheduled appointments with your eye doctor is the best thing that you can do. If you have questions or concerns, do not hesitate to start an open dialog with your eye doctor and ask why he/she has chosen the particular monitoring or treatment plan that was prescribed for you. If you are still concerned, it is always acceptable to ask for a second opinion from a glaucoma specialist.
I have glaucoma and I take numerous eye drops daily (timolol, fluorometholone, and Alphagan-P). Should I be concerned about the long-term side effects that these medications may have on the liver, kidneys, lungs and heart? [ 03/24/11 ]
Every medication can have potential side effects; however, currently there are no studies that indicate any long-term negative side effects for the liver, kidneys, lungs or heart with any of these medications. The doctor that prescribed the medications should continue to ask you if you are noticing any side effects during each of your visits. The medications were manufactured with the assumption that once they were started, the patient would likely continue using them for years or even decades, so they inherently are created in an attempt to minimize the side effect profiles.
It is worthwhile discussing the proper installation of eye drops briefly however, as this not only increases 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. It is probably best to either recline or sit upright. 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. Finally, we typically tell our patients to wait a full 5 minutes between drops or wait 5 minutes after the last drop before cleaning the eyelids. Most of the medication that will be absorbed into the eye will have done so within 5 minutes. Finally, I always recommend that my patients bring their eye drop bottle to the clinic so that I can watch them put in at least one drop, just to make sure they are doing it correctly. You would be amazed at the things that I have seen patients do. Doctors often take for granted that patients know how to instill drops and they simply should not. I highly recommend that you ask your eye doctor to watch you put in a drop to make sure that you are doing it correctly.
I’m 31 yrs. old and have been diagnosed with primary open-angle glaucoma. In ’07 my eye pressure was at 18 bilaterally, 20 bilaterally in ‘08 and it increased to 25 in ’09, but the optometrist didn’t give me drops or perform any follow-up tests. In Jan. of ’10, my pressure was at 36 in the right and 30 in the left. A visual field test revealed slight vision loss in both eyes, but more on the right. I was put on Travatan and referred to an ophthalmologist. The ophthalmologist added timolol in the right eye. My pressures have come down to 25 in both eyes. My Dr. has recommended laser surgery (ALT or SLT). I read online that some Drs. don’t even attempt trabeculoplasty on people younger than 60 because success rate is low. I also read that the surgery can cause more harm in younger people. I would like to know what your thoughts are. I’m curious if there is any research about trabeculoplasty success rates and complications in younger people. [ 03/18/11 ]
Thank you for your question. Answering your question may be slightly difficult as I have not personally examined your eye, reviewed your history, or seen the results of your previous tests. Given your young age, it would be slightly unusual (but not impossible) for you to have “run of the mill” open-angle glaucoma. Typically, open-angle glaucoma presents in much older individuals. I would be curious to know if you had a subset of open-angle glaucoma such as pigmentary glaucoma, pseudoexfoliation glaucoma, or another type altogether. In any case, you are correct, your course or response to treatment may not be similar to an elderly patient with glaucoma that received identical treatment. It likely also depends on many other factors including the amount of pigment in the trabecular meshwork, which can be seen using gonioscopy.
The information that you read online concerning glaucoma treatment in younger individuals (and provided to me as part of your question) is interesting, and I think there may be some truth to these observations. Unfortunately, I found it difficult to find studies in the literature fully supporting this notion. This may be a result of the fact that we do not have many “young” patients with glaucoma and we simply have not studied it closely enough. From my own personal experience, I agree that sometimes laser does not appear to work as well in younger patients. Given that, a search of the literature actually shows a few studies that state age is not a predictor of success or failure. Some of these studies had patients in their 30s. I think it is fair to say that studies on the subject are inconclusive.
So without definitive evidence in the current literature, it essentially comes down to the fact that you have to discuss the risks, benefits, and alternatives of having either laser or surgical intervention and then decide how you would like to treat your eyes. There are risks with every procedure, so please share all of the information that you have obtained with your eye doctor and have a thorough discussion. You will have to decide which treatment provides the best benefit with reasonable risks in your opinion. That is a decision that only you can make (and two different people with the same options may make different choices based on their willingness to assume certain risks). That is why you must sign an “informed consent” before any procedure is completed. It states that you have been given the risks, the potential benefits and understand that you have alternate choices.
I wish I could provide a more definitive answer, but unfortunately I don't think there is one. If there was definitive information showing that laser in young patients was contraindicated, your doctor would not have offered it as an alternative. I wish you the best of luck.
My wife has glaucoma, which is under control; however, she is now having problems with a tic in her left eye lid, which is driving her crazy. Is the tic related to the glaucoma? [ 03/17/11 ]
Thank you for your question. I have had a similar tic on occasion and it nearly drove me crazy too! Fortunately, this likely has nothing to do with the medications or the glaucoma. These are usually termed “myokymia” and last only a short time (although it can be several weeks). Often they occur when individuals are under increased stress, and it doesn't help that having the tic stresses you out more! The best advice is to ignore it and it will soon go away on its own. In addition, increasing exercise, increasing sleep, and decreasing caffeine or any other stimulants may help. To be safe, if it lasts more than a couple of weeks, you should probably stop by the eye doctor to just make sure it is this type of muscle twitch and not something related to other medical conditions. I know this can be aggravating, and I do wish you the best of luck.
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Last Review: 04/28/13