Common glaucoma treatments have side effects. Learn what they are and how to avoid them completely.
Glaucoma refers to a group of related eye disorders that all cause damage to the optic nerve that carries information from the eye to the brain. Glaucoma usually has few or no initial symptoms. However, it is the second leading cause of blindness in the U.S. (behind macular degeneration), and the second leading cause of blindness worldwide (behind cataracts).
Part of glaucoma awareness is making people understand that glaucoma is a chronic disease that requires lifelong treatment.
Children’s Vision Problems: Myopia + Glaucoma
Myopia (a.k.a. nearsightedness) is the most common “refractive error of the eye” worldwide. If you are the parent of a myopic child, there is good reason to also be concerned about glaucoma: Several studies make clear that the risk of glaucoma increases with the degree of myopia. Moderate to high myopia is most associated with glaucoma risk.
The Blue Mountains Eye Study, one of the more frequently cited studies when discussing the association between myopia and glaucoma, found a strong relationship between the most common type of glaucoma (primary open-angle glaucoma or POAG) and myopia. The relationship increases as low myopia progresses to moderate to high myopia. This correlation is borne out by numerous other studies, as well.
Blindness is the ultimate result of untreated glaucoma, although the condition can be treated. Before your myopic child also develops glaucoma, consider these two “minefields” hidden within glaucoma treatments:
- Potentially intolerable side effects, possibly deadly interactions with other drugs/worsening of other medical conditions
- Difficulty complying with glaucoma medication regimen
Glaucoma Treatment & Side Effects
According to the Glaucoma Foundation, glaucoma can be treated with eye drops, pills, laser surgery, traditional glaucoma surgery, or a combination of these methods. The goal of any glaucoma treatment is to prevent loss of vision, as vision loss from glaucoma is irreversible.
Most glaucoma eye drops may cause an uncomfortable burning or stinging sensation at first that will last for only a few seconds.
However, eye drops are absorbed into the bloodstream; thus, it is important to discuss with your doctor all medications your child is currently taking. Ask your doctor if those medications are safe to use with glaucoma eye drops. Some drugs can be very dangerous when mixed with other medications.
Equally concerning, some types of eye drops may worsen certain existing medical conditions in your child, such as asthma. It is understood that steroids can cause elevation of intraocular pressure (IOP). Any form of steroid can cause a rise in eye pressure in persons with glaucoma or at risk for the disease. Accordingly, if your child uses an inhaler or other steroid-based asthma treatment, glaucoma medications could be a serious problem.
Sometimes, when eye drops don't sufficiently control IOP, pills may be prescribed in addition to drops. These pills have more systemic side effects than drops. The glaucoma medications are usually taken two to four times daily. It is important to share this information with your pediatrician and any specialists your child sees, so they can prescribe medications that will not cause potentially dangerous interactions.
With compliance, in many cases glaucoma can be controlled and 90 percent of blindness can be avoided. The bad news is that non-compliance with prescribed glaucoma medication is a major reason for blindness. This is understandably a major worry for parents.
According to The Glaucoma Foundation, a recent survey from Canada found that half of glaucoma patients do not use their medications properly because of either non-compliance or improper administration techniques. Such findings are not unique to Canada. It is crucial for all patients to take their medications exactly as prescribed. Your child needs to understand why he needs to take glaucoma medications and what they do to help him avoid becoming blind.
When medications do not achieve the desired results, or have intolerable side effects, your ophthalmologist may suggest surgery. However, the biggest side effect of this option is the blow to your finances—and even the exorbitant cost does not guarantee 100% recovery.
Glaucoma Prevention Through Myopia Treatment
It’s always best to take care of any/all eye care-associated issues before they escalate. The evidence above about glaucoma and myopia is why it’s so important to assess your child’s vision early and regularly.
Early diagnosis is the best way to prevent vision loss from glaucoma. People at high risk for glaucoma due to myopia (as well as other factors such as family history, ethnic background, age, or optic nerve appearance) may need more frequent visits to the eye doctor than others.
But one of the best ways to avoid glaucoma is to correct your child’s myopia so it doesn’t get worse and increase glaucoma risk. A non-invasive technique that’s gaining popularity is orthokeratology, or Vision Improvement Therapy (VIT) Invisalens. With VIT, a specially fitted rigid gas permeable (RGP or GP) contact lens reshapes the cornea while your child sleeps. When you remove the RGP lens in the morning, his cornea temporarily retains the new, corrected shape, so he can see clearly throughout the day without glasses or contact lenses.
Vision Improvement Therapy (VIT) provides a strong first line of defense for treating childhood myopia, curing myopia naturally before it worsens into glaucoma, and thus avoiding the side effects and risks of glaucoma treatment.