Glaucoma is a common and
usually chronic condition that can destroy your eyesight if it is not
controlled. Of the four main types of glaucoma, only one, congenital glaucoma,
affects children and is usually due to a problem with eye development. The
other three types of glaucoma all affect adults, usually from middle age
The raised pressure inside
the eyeball that is the main cause of glaucoma often causes no symptoms but if
it is not diagnosed early enough, the increase in pressure causes progressive
damage to the optic nerve as it leaves the back of the eye. This damage is
permanent and any eyesight that is lost can never be regained. If the problem
is recognised early, various glaucoma treatments are available to reduce the
intraocular pressure and so prevent damage to the delicate structures of the
Types of glaucoma
Glaucoma treatments depend
on the type of disease that you have. Glaucoma is described using some
strange-sounding terminology, so it helps to first understand how glaucoma is
this is caused by an inherited condition, a developmental problem or a
difficult birth and is present in newborn babies. Specialised treatment, often
involving corrective surgery, is done by a paediatric team.
Chronic open-angle glaucoma usually develops very gradually and there is still
some drainage of fluid from the eye. Glaucoma treatment therefore tends to
focus on drugs delivered directly to the eye in the form of drops. In cases
that do not respond, laser treatment and surgery are also available.
Chronic angle-closure glaucoma also develops slowly over time but acute angle-closure
glaucoma can come on very quickly, with eye pressures increasing dramatically
and causing eye pain. Treatment options are similar to open-angle glaucoma, but
the situation is somewhat more urgent as there is little drainage of eye fluid
and damage can happen more quickly. Immediate treatment is required for the
acute form to prevent imminent loss of sight.
(which can be open-angle or angle-closure) develops as a result of another
disease, such as diabetes, or because of an eye infection, or because of injury
to the eye. Glaucoma treatment will be given alongside therapy for the
Glaucoma treatment in the form of eye drops
All chronic forms of
glaucoma that are detected early can usually be controlled with eye drops.
These contain drugs that either make fluid drain from the eye faster, or they
reduce the volume of fluid that is produced inside the eyeball. The main
classes of drug that your doctor or ophthalmologist might recommend include:
Beta-blockers, such as metipranolol and betaxolol
hydrochloride. These drugs seem to
decrease the amount of aqueous humour that is produced. In the normal eye, this
fluid is generated continuously but cutting its production down can help the
eye keep up with draining excess fluid away.
Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, such as dorzolamide. Again, these drugs reduce the amount of fluid that
is released within the eye.
Prostaglandin analogues, such as latanoprost. Prostaglandin-like drugs increase the rate of
drainage, thus reducing eye pressure. They do not affect fluid production.
Sympathomimetics, such as brimonidine tartrate. These offer a double-whammy glaucoma treatment as
they increase drainage and reduce fluid production.
All classes of drug that
are useful in glaucoma will have some side effects, often related to the eye
itself, such as irritation, redness or stinging, but they can also affect the
rest of the body. Eye drops containing beta-blockers, for example, cannot be
taken if you have asthma or heart problems, as the tiny amounts of the drug
that get into your bloodstream can make your other health problems worse.
All can be very effective
glaucoma treatments and there is a huge choice of individual drugs in each
class. Your doctor may try several before you find the eye drops that are
effective enough to bring your intraocular pressure down, but have no adverse
effects on your eyes or on your general health.
Glaucoma treatment using lasers
If your glaucoma does not
respond very well to drops, laser treatment is then a second-line option. Two
types of laser surgery are effective glaucoma treatments:
Laser trabeculoplasty: a laser is used to open up channels in the network of
drainage tubes in your eye. This is a minor operation that is done under local
anaesthetic. The laser light enters through your pupil and makes small holes in
the drainage tissue. Following the laser treatment, your glaucoma should be
stable, as fluid will immediately be able to drain out of the eye much more
Cyclodiode laser surgery: this is used to destroy some of the cells that
produce the fluid that fills the eyeball. With less fluid produced, your
drainage system should be able to cope better.
Surgical glaucoma treatment
Surgery is available in
the most severe cases and where resistance to glaucoma treatment is a problem. Three
main surgical procedures can be used to reduce eye pressure and to prevent it
from building again:
Implantation of an aqueous shunt: a small tube is implanted into the eye to allow
fluid to drain out.
this also involves putting in place an implant but, in this case, it is a
smaller tube that widens the existing network of drainage tubes.
a small portion of the white of the eye is removed, which allows the fluid to
seep out of the eyeball.
Is glaucoma treatment effective?
Far fewer cases of
blindness due to glaucoma now occur in the UK compared to the days before eye
pressure could be detected. The combination of accurate diagnosis and prompt
treatment means that overall management of this condition is highly successful.
No one glaucoma treatment is perfect but the range of options available means
that there will be an effective treatment for most people.