Your doctor will review your medical history and conduct a comprehensive eye examination. He or she may perform several tests, including:
- Measuring intraocular pressure (tonometry)
- Testing for optic nerve damage with a dilated eye examination and imaging tests
- Checking for areas of vision loss (visual field test)
- Measuring corneal thickness (pachymetry)
- Inspecting the drainage angle (gonioscopy)
The damage caused by glaucoma can't be reversed. But treatment and regular checkups can help slow or prevent vision loss, especially if you catch the disease in its early stages.
Glaucoma is treated by lowering your eye pressure (intraocular pressure). Depending on your situation, your options may include prescription eyedrops, oral medications, laser treatment, surgery or a combination of any of these.
Glaucoma treatment often starts with prescription eyedrops. These can help decrease eye pressure by improving how fluid drains from your eye or by decreasing the amount of fluid your eye makes. Depending on how low your eye pressure needs to be, more than one of the eyedrops below may need to be prescribed.
Prescription eyedrop medications include:
Prostaglandins. These increase the outflow of the fluid in your eye (aqueous humor), thereby reducing your eye pressure. Medicines in this category include latanoprost (Xalatan), travoprost (Travatan Z), tafluprost (Zioptan), bimatoprost (Lumigan) and latanoprostene bunod (Vyzulta).
Possible side effects include mild reddening and stinging of the eyes, darkening of the iris, darkening of the pigment of the eyelashes or eyelid skin, and blurred vision. This class of drug is prescribed for once-a-day use.
Beta blockers. These reduce the production of fluid in your eye, thereby lowering the pressure in your eye (intraocular pressure). Examples include timolol (Betimol, Istalol, Timoptic) and betaxolol (Betoptic).
Possible side effects include difficulty breathing, slowed heart rate, lower blood pressure, impotence and fatigue. This class of drug can be prescribed for once- or twice-daily use depending on your condition.
Alpha-adrenergic agonists. These reduce the production of aqueous humor and increase outflow of the fluid in your eye. Examples include apraclonidine (Iopidine) and brimonidine (Alphagan P, Qoliana).
Possible side effects include an irregular heart rate, high blood pressure, fatigue, red, itchy or swollen eyes, and dry mouth. This class of drug is usually prescribed for twice-daily use but sometimes can be prescribed for use three times a day.
- Carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. These medicines reduce the production of fluid in your eye. Examples include dorzolamide (Trusopt) and brinzolamide (Azopt). Possible side effects include a metallic taste, frequent urination, and tingling in the fingers and toes. This class of drug is usually prescribed for twice-daily use but sometimes can be prescribed for use three times a day.
- Rho kinase inhibitor. This medicine lowers eye pressure by suppressing the rho kinase enzymes responsible for fluid increase. It is available as netarsudil (Rhopressa) and is prescribed for once-a-day use. Possible side effects include eye redness, eye discomfort and deposits forming on the cornea.
- Miotic or cholinergic agents. These increase the outflow of fluid from your eye. An example is pilocarpine (Isopto Carpine). Side effects include headache, eye ache, smaller pupils, possible blurred or dim vision, and nearsightedness. This class of medicine is usually prescribed to be used up to four times a day. Because of potential side effects and the need for frequent daily use, these medications are not prescribed very often anymore.
Because some of the eyedrop medicine is absorbed into your bloodstream, you may experience some side effects unrelated to your eyes. To minimize this absorption, close your eyes for one to two minutes after putting the drops in. You may also press lightly at the corner of your eyes near your nose to close the tear duct for one or two minutes. Wipe off any unused drops from your eyelid.
If you have been prescribed multiple eyedrops or you need to use artificial tears, space them out so that you are waiting at least five minutes in between types of drops.
If eyedrops alone don't bring your eye pressure down to the desired level, your doctor may also prescribe an oral medication, usually a carbonic anhydrase inhibitor. Possible side effects include frequent urination, tingling in the fingers and toes, depression, stomach upset, and kidney stones.
Surgery and other therapies
Other treatment options include laser therapy and various surgical procedures. The following techniques are intended to improve the drainage of fluid within the eye, thereby lowering pressure:
- Laser therapy. Laser trabeculoplasty (truh-BEK-u-low-plas-tee) is an option if you have open-angle glaucoma. It's done in your doctor's office. Your doctor uses a small laser beam to open clogged channels in the trabecular meshwork. It may take a few weeks before the full effect of this procedure becomes apparent.
- Filtering surgery. With a surgical procedure called a trabeculectomy (truh-bek-u-LEK-tuh-me), your surgeon creates an opening in the white of the eye (sclera) and removes part of the trabecular meshwork.
- Drainage tubes. In this procedure, your eye surgeon inserts a small tube shunt in your eye to drain away excess fluid to lower your eye pressure.
- Minimally invasive glaucoma surgery (MIGS). Your doctor may suggest a MIGS procedure to lower your eye pressure. These procedures generally require less immediate postoperative care and have less risk than trabeculectomy or installing a drainage device. They are often combined with cataract surgery. There are a number of MIGS techniques available, and your doctor will discuss which procedure may be right for you.
After your procedure, you'll need to see your doctor for follow-up exams. And you may eventually need to undergo additional procedures if your eye pressure begins to rise or other changes occur in your eye.
Treating acute angle-closure glaucoma
Acute angle-closure glaucoma is a medical emergency. If you're diagnosed with this condition, you'll need urgent treatment to reduce the pressure in your eye. This generally will require both medication and laser or other surgical procedures.
You may have a procedure called a laser peripheral iridotomy in which the doctor creates a small opening in your iris using a laser. This allows fluid (aqueous humor) to flow through it, relieving eye pressure.
Lifestyle and home remedies
These tips may help you control high eye pressure or promote eye health.
- Eat a healthy diet. Eating a healthy diet can help you maintain your health, but it won't prevent glaucoma from worsening. Several vitamins and nutrients are important to eye health, including zinc, copper, selenium, and antioxidant vitamins C, E, and A.
- Exercise safely. Regular exercise may reduce eye pressure in open-angle glaucoma. Talk to your doctor about an appropriate exercise program.
- Limit your caffeine. Drinking beverages with large amounts of caffeine may increase your eye pressure.
- Sip fluids frequently. Drink only moderate amounts of fluids at any given time during the course of a day. Drinking a quart or more of any liquid within a short time may temporarily increase eye pressure.
- Sleep with your head elevated. Using a wedge pillow that keeps your head slightly raised, about 20 degrees, has been shown to reduce intraocular pressure while you sleep.
- Take prescribed medicine. Using your eyedrops or other medications as prescribed can help you get the best possible result from your treatment. Be sure to use the drops exactly as prescribed. Otherwise, your optic nerve damage could worsen.
Some alternative medicine approaches may help your overall health, but none is an effective glaucoma remedy. Talk with your doctor about their possible benefits and risks.
- Herbal remedies. Some herbal supplements, such as bilberry extract, have been advertised as glaucoma remedies. But further study is needed to prove their effectiveness. Don't use herbal supplements in place of proven therapies.
- Relaxation techniques. Stress may trigger an attack of acute angle-closure glaucoma. If you're at risk of this condition, find healthy ways to cope with stress. Meditation and other techniques may help.
- Marijuana. Research shows that marijuana lowers eye pressure in people with glaucoma, but only for three to four hours. Other, standard treatments are more effective. The American Academy of Ophthalmology doesn't recommend marijuana for treating glaucoma.
Coping and support
When you receive a diagnosis of glaucoma, you're potentially facing lifelong treatment, regular checkups and the possibility of progressive vision loss.
Meeting and talking with other people with glaucoma can be very helpful, and many support groups exist. Check with hospitals and eye care centers in your area to find local groups and meeting times. Several online resources, including support groups, also are available.
Preparing for your appointment
Here's some information to help you get ready for your appointment.
What you can do
Before your appointment make a list of:
- Symptoms you've been having, and for how long
- All medications, supplements and vitamins you take, including the doses
- Any eye problems you've had in the past, such as vision changes or eye discomfort
- Family members with glaucoma, what type of glaucoma they had and how severe the condition was for them
- Previous, if any, glaucoma testing — for example, visual fields, imaging or eye exam records
- Questions to ask your doctor
Some basic questions to ask your doctor include:
- Do I have signs of glaucoma?
- What tests do I need to confirm a diagnosis?
- What treatment approach do you recommend?
- What are the alternatives to the primary approach you're suggesting?
- Do I need to follow any activity restrictions?
- What other self-care measures might help me?
- What is the long-term outlook in my case?
- How often do I need to return for follow-up visits?
- Do I need to see an additional specialist?
- I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
What to expect from your doctor
A doctor who sees you for possible glaucoma is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:
- Have you had any eye discomfort or vision problems?
- Do you have any other signs or symptoms that concern you?
- Do you have any family history of glaucoma or other eye problems?
- What eye screening tests have you had and when?
- Have you been diagnosed with any other medical conditions?
- Are you using any eyedrops?
- Are you using any vitamins or supplements?