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Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness, and it has no cure. In addition, treatment can’t reverse its affects. If you develop glaucoma, you will need medical attention the rest of your life.
Typical treatments for glaucoma involve eye drops, laser surgery, conventional surgery, or a combination of the three. All come with benefits and risks, and your doctor can help you make the choice that is right for your eyes.
Deleted: Researchers are hard at work to find new glaucoma therapies. New surgical techniques and innovative medication-delivery services could help you control the disease better than before.
What Is Glaucoma?
With each blink, your eyes adjust fluid levels. New fluid come ins, and old fluids are recycled. When the system breaks, fluids build up within the eye. Pressure rises, and the optic nerve is compressed. In time, this can compromise your vision.
- It is painless. We often use pain to warn us that something has gone wrong in our bodies. In the early stages, glaucoma does not hurt at all.
- It is gradual. You will not wake up one morning and discover that your sight is gone. Instead, you will lose it in small steps that are easy to ignore.
- It is permanent. The sight you lose due to glaucoma will not come back.
Early glaucoma treatment is critical, as it can help you preserve what you have without losing yet more eyesight. Thanks to advances in treatment, glaucoma no longer means blindness for most people. But even with treatment, glaucoma can have serious consequences.
According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, about 10 percent of people who get glaucoma treatment still experience vision loss.
How Is Glaucoma Treated?
The goal of glaucoma treatment is to amend the fluid imbalance within your eyes. When your eyes can drain properly, the pressure drops. That allows your optic nerve to escape further damage, so you will not lose any more vision.
- Alpha-adrenergic agonists.
- Beta blockers.
- Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors.
- Cholinergic agents.
- Rho kinase inhibitors.
Most of these drops work by either increasing outflow of liquids or reducing fluid production. You will use them at least once, if not several, times each day. You can't skip a dose, or severe symptoms can return.
Glaucoma eye drops can cause side effects, says the American Academy of Ophthalmology, including:
- Blurry vision.
- Changes in pulse and heartbeat.
- Energy level changes.
- Dry mouth.
- Itchiness around the eyes.
- Eye redness.
- Stinging sensations.
If you are struggling with side effects from one type of drop, another might work better. It's not wise to stop your medications without talking with your doctor, even if the drops irritate your eyes.
If you can't tolerate drops, your doctor might recommend laser trabeculoplasty. Your surgeon uses a laser to optimize how well your eye drains, and if it's done properly, you may not need eye drops.
The BrightFocus Foundation says this is not a cure for glaucoma, as the effect can wear off and require another surgery. But it could be a good option for those who just can't handle medication management.
Conventional surgery is also an option for people with glaucoma. Surgeons implant shunts to improve drainage, or they snip away at the bits that are blocking drainage channels.
The Glaucoma Research Foundation says only 11 percent of people with the condition choose surgery. The rest use drops or lasers instead. But surgery can be helpful for some people who do not benefit from those other forms of care.
Sometimes, people can manage their glaucoma with conservative means like eye drops for years before symptoms worsen. At that point, an ophthalmologist may recommend laser or traditional surgery.
Innovations in Glaucoma Treatment
One area that shows promise for innovative glaucoma treatment is gene therapy. Researchers from the University of Bristol Medical School conducted a study showing that sight-deterioration from glaucoma could be improved with gene therapy.
The team employed CRISPR gene editing to inactivate the Aquaporin 1 gene in the ciliary body, which generates fluid to maintain normal eye pressure. The result was reduced IOP. While this is still not a cure for glaucoma, the researchers are collaborating with industry partners to move towards clinical trials soon.
Researchers at the Harvard Medical School also manipulated retinal cells to recapture youthful gene function and restore vision in mice. This was the first successful reversal of glaucoma-induced vision loss and glaucoma damage.
Most other treatments seek to stem its progression. This gene therapy may reverse cell aging successfully and potentially revolutionize eye treatment. Clinicians are hopeful to begin clinical trials soon if further animal testing confirms research findings.
In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the first biodegradable intracameral sustained-release implant for DURYSTA (a prostaglandin analog) from Allergan plc. The new drug application (NDA) reduces IOP in patients with ocular hypertension and open-angle glaucoma. It is an important breakthrough, offering a viable option for people who have problems with topical eye drops.
At-Home Glaucoma Treatments
There are plenty of things you can do at home to help address your glaucoma. You can use your eye drops, for example, and you can contact your doctor with questions. Unfortunately, there are no DIY treatments that can cure the disorder.
Experts say a diet filled with fruits and vegetables is good for overall health, regardless of a glaucoma diagnosis. But there is no specific diet to follow to keep your condition under control.
Loading up your plate with colorful plants is always a good idea, and it's encouraged by most doctors. But beware of people touting a specific "glaucoma cure" with food. That does not exist.
Exercise could be helpful as you work on your glaucoma. The Glaucoma Research Foundation says, for example, that people walking briskly four times per week for 40 minutes per session reduced eye pressure enough to eliminate the need for one type of medication.
But some types of exercise, including some yoga poses, could be dangerous for people with glaucoma. Make sure you are breathing evenly and deeply while you exercise, as holding your breath puts pressure on your eyes.
It's smart to talk with your doctor about your exercise plans before you begin a new regime.
Is a Cure Possible?
While there is no current cure for glaucoma, research continues. You have good reason to be hopeful.
The National Glaucoma Foundation says advanced research that could result in therapies that restore vision could take years to complete. The work is hard, and it's time-consuming. But experts are trying.
In the interim, it's wise to stay in close contact with your doctor about your glaucoma. Use the therapies suggested, and talk with your doctor if something about the plan is no longer working for you.
We have come a long way in how we manage glaucoma. Early diagnosis and prompt treatment can greatly slow its progression and lessen the chances of severe vision loss. Regular eye exams are key to ensuring the best long-term prognosis.
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Exciting New Treatments for Glaucoma. (February 2015). University of Utah.
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Allergan Receives FDA Approval for DURYSTA (bimatoprost implant) the First and Only Intracameral Biodegradable Sustained-Release Implant to Lower Intraocular Pressure in Open-Angle Glaucoma or Ocular Hypertension Patients. (March 2020). CISION PR Newswire.