Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness, and the damage it creates can't be reversed. Once you've developed the condition, you'll need treatment for the rest of your life. You can't ever consider yourself cured. (Learn more)

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's right for your eyes. (Learn more)

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. (Learn more)

What Is Glaucoma?

symptoms of 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.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness globally, says the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The disease is dangerous because:

  • It is painless. We often use pain to warn us that something has gone wrong in our bodies. In the early stages, glaucoma doesn't hurt at all.
  • It is gradual. You won't wake up one morning and discover that your sight is gone. Instead, you'll lose it in small steps that are easy to ignore.
  • It is permanent. The sight you lose due to glaucoma won't 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 won't lose any more vision.

Frontline treatment for glaucoma involves eye drops, says the Glaucoma Research Foundation. Many different versions exist, including:

  • Alpha-adrenergic agonists.
  • Beta blockers.
  • Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors.
  • Cholinergic agents.
  • Prostaglandins.
  • Rho kinase inhibitors.

Most of these drops work by either increasing outflow of liquids or reducing fluid production. You'll 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're 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 isn't 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 don't 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

man using eyedrop

Doctors are hard at work researching glaucoma, so they can offer more treatment choices to patients. Within the past few years, several new and exciting options have emerged, although they may not be available to or appropriate for all patients.

Newer surgical techniques, often called minimally invasive glaucoma surgeries (MIGS), help to reduce pressure within the eye. As the BrightFocus Foundation points out, there is little consensus among experts on what these surgeries are and what they are not. Each procedure could be a little different than the next. But most involve placing some sort of device within the eye to improve drainage.

A surgery like this comes with a shorter recovery time than conventional surgery, and that could be appealing to some patients. Some MIGS surgeries also invade fewer critical eye structures, so they could heal up quicker.

But the BrightFocus Foundation says that these procedures tend to reduce eye pressure by about 15 mmHg, which might not be a big enough decrease for some patients.

Doctors are also examining medication delivery systems. The Glaucoma Research Foundation says new therapies could be delivered:

  • On the eye. Contact lenses, gel drops, and other new products could release a constant amount of medications. If you used them, you'd take fewer breaks away from your daily routine to pop eye drops in your eyes.
  • Within the eye. New implants could deliver treatments right where they're needed with no drops required.
  • Around the eye. Plugs in your tear duct could release medications over time, and you could replace them yourself.

These methods don't cure glaucoma. They aim to keep the damage under control. Since many people who have glaucoma forget to use their eye drops regularly, these delivery methods can greatly improve symptoms and long-term results.

At-Home Glaucoma Treatments

assortment of vegetables

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 doesn't 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.

While there is no cure for glaucoma, we’ve come a long way in how we manage the disease. 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.

 

References

Don't Let Glaucoma Steal Your Sight! (December 2018). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Glaucoma Facts and Stats. (October 2017). Glaucoma Research Foundation.

Glaucoma. (February 2018). MedicineNet.

Glaucoma Overview.  (February 2018). National Health Service.

Glaucoma Treatment. (August 2019). American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Six Questions to Ask Before Starting Glaucoma Treatment. (June 2018). BrightFocus Foundation.

Advances in Glaucoma Treatment. (May 2018). Duke Eye Center.

Study Advances Gene Therapy for Glaucoma. (January 2018). ScienceDaily.

Exciting New Treatments for Glaucoma. (February 2015). University of Utah.

The Path to a Cure for Glaucoma. Glaucoma Research Foundation.

Glaucoma Surgery Series: Minimally Invasive Glaucoma Surgeries (MIGS). (November 2018). BrightFocus Foundation.

New Medication Delivery Systems for Glaucoma. (December 2019). Glaucoma Research Foundation.

What Vitamins and Nutrients Will Help Prevent My Glaucoma From Worsening? (July 2018). Glaucoma Research Foundation.

Alternative Medicine. (March 2016). Glaucoma Research Foundation.

Can Glaucoma Be Cured? (July 2019). Glaucoma Research Foundation.