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Glaucoma and Eye Pressure: Q&A

Q: My eye specialist has stated that I may be developing glaucoma. Can it be avoided? Are there things I could do now to delay or prevent it from occurring? — G.K., Ontario, Canada

A: Glaucoma is an eye condition whereby the optic nerve fibers die from a lack of blood supply (nutrition). This used to be associated only with high eye pressure. We now know that it is the blood flow to the optic nerve, which connects the back of the eye to the brain, that makes a difference in glaucoma — not just eye pressure. Unfortunately, once optic nerve fibers die, they cannot be rejuvenated.

So, can you do something to prevent glaucoma? Good question. We don't really know the answer. I can tell you that current research is suggesting that optic nerve nutrition can be enhanced with certain drugs and also with certain nutritional agents, like gingko biloba.

My suggestion would be to avoid smoking and excessive alcohol, eat a healthy diet, keep your weight down, exercise, take nutritional products and be sure to see your eye specialist on a regular basis. — Dr. Dubow

Q: My ophthalmologist told me that my right eye pressure is kind of high at 28 mmHg (millimeters of mercury). I normally go to the gym and spend a lot of time inside the sauna, where it is really hot. I also do some weight lifting. Do these daily habits have anything to do with having high eye pressure? — R.S.

A: Your trips to the gym, time in the sauna and weight lifting should not affect your intraocular pressure. — Dr. Slonim

Q: Have you heard about a test to measure nerve fiber thickness to help in the early detection of glaucoma? It is done with a machine called GDx. — S.H., California

A: Yes, the machine you refer to performs a very detailed optic nerve analysis for the diagnosis of glaucoma. The manufacturer claims that the very early glaucomatous changes can be determined. The test takes only a few seconds. — Dr. Slonim

Q: What are the signs of glaucoma? I have polarized glasses and see rays reflected from car headlights. Could it be because of cataracts? — E.S., California

A: Usually there are no signs of the most common type of glaucoma (chronic open-angle glaucoma). Slowly rising pressure inside the eye can be detected only by having the intraocular pressure (IOP) checked at an eye doctor's office.

Cataracts are possible with those symptoms. Sounds like you could use a thorough eye exam. — Dr. Slonim

[See also: free eye exams for qualifying individuals.]

Q: I have glaucoma and a cataract. Will I have good results with my cataract surgery? — A.P.

A: The combination of these two conditions does not reduce the success of the cataract surgery. Cataract surgery alone will not alleviate your glaucoma. Your glaucoma can still progress whether or not you have cataract surgery. The results of your surgery usually depend on your surgeon and what happens at the time of your surgery. — Dr. Slonim

Q: How can one have high eye pressure and not have glaucoma? At what high range do the eye drops start? — E.C., Pennsylvania

A: Normal pressure in the eye is between 12 and 21mm Hg. Some patients are fortunate in that their optic nerves can tolerate pressures outside this range.

If there are no other signs of glaucoma (visual field defect or optic nerve changes), then high pressures can be followed and simply observed. Most docs will, however, treat a pressure greater than 30mm Hg. Higher than normal eye pressure with no evidence of glaucoma is referred to as ocular hypertension (no relationship to blood pressure). — Dr. Slonim

[Read more about ocular hypertension.]

Q: I recently was diagnosed with the onset of glaucoma. I was put on glaucoma eye drops (Travatan). Since then, I have been experiencing irregular heart rhythms. Is this normal? Could this be caused by the eye drops or is it an unrelated problem? — C.S.

A: I am unaware of any known "irregular heart rhythm" side effect of Travatan. Bradycardia (a slow heart beat) is a known, yet uncommon side effect. But bradycardia is not an irregular heart rhythm. If you have not yet discussed your heart rhythm changes with your doctor, you should do so right away. — Dr. Slonim

Q: My son, who is 11 years old, is undergoing glaucoma treatments. He has had a pressure curve test, an RHT and slit lamp examination. All info confirms diagnosis of juvenile hereditary glaucoma, in the early stage.

He was given some drops to use regularly, but I was informed that some drugs can induce sexual problems due to beta blocking action. Are there new drugs that are more reliable for this illness? — A.G., Argentina

A: Many of the anti-glaucoma medications can have systemic side effects. As the drops are absorbed into the eye, some of the medication gets absorbed into the bloodstream and can, therefore, affect other parts of the body.

There are a number of good glaucoma medications. However, each has its own set of potential systemic side effects. The main goal is to keep the eye pressure under control with the minimal amount of medication.

Some beta blocker type glaucoma medication can cause impotence and/or reduce one's libido. If you are concerned about this potential side effect, consult with your eye doctor about alternative medications. — Dr. Slonim

READ NEXT: Glaucoma Awareness Month

Please note: If you have an urgent question about your eye health, contact your eye care practitioner immediately. This page is designed to provide general information about vision, vision care and vision correction. It is not intended to provide medical advice. If you suspect that you have a vision problem or a condition that requires attention, consult with an eye care professional for advice on the treatment of your own specific condition and for your own particular needs. For more information, read our Terms of Use.

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