Since glaucoma and cataracts both become more common as people age, it's not unusual for seniors to have both of these conditions at the same time. Aging causes the lens of the eye to thicken, and the thick spots become opaque and difficult to see through. Glaucoma is caused by high intraocular pressure from too much fluid in your eye, and the thickening tissue in older eyes often causes eye fluid to drain slower.
Cataracts often cause blurry vision and difficulty seeing in low-light conditions, and glaucoma can cause difficulty seeing out of the corners of your eyes. If left untreated, glaucoma can lead to blindness.
Thankfully, it's often possible for seniors to improve their vision by removing their cataracts and treating their glaucoma at the same time. To learn more about how cataract surgery works and how it can help treat glaucoma, read on.
What Happens During Cataract Surgery?
During cataract surgery, the surgeon will make an incision into your eye that allows them to remove the thickened, opaque lens. The lens is replaced with an artificial one that allows you to see out of it clearly. Cataract surgery is a very quick procedure and can lead to drastic improvements in vision. Recovering from the surgery is simple as well since the incision site used to replace your lens is very small.
Can You Get Cataract Surgery if You Have Glaucoma?
Unless your intraocular pressure is very high and unstable, it's most often possible to have your cataracts removed even when you have glaucoma. Shortly after your surgery, your intraocular pressure may increase — this is most likely to happen during the first day after your surgery. Surgery may not be possible if your pressure is already extremely high and not able to be controlled with medication, since a slight increase can cause your intraocular pressure to become dangerously high and cause damage to your optic nerve. For patients who are stable with their current medication regimen, however, having your cataracts removed is safe. In fact, having your cataracts removed can also be a way to help treat your glaucoma.
How Can Cataract Surgery Also Help Glaucoma?
Although the surgery can cause intraocular pressure to rise slightly during the recovery period due to inflammation, it can cause a slight drop in intraocular pressure once you have recovered from the surgery. If you have mildly elevated intraocular pressure, this may be enough to treat your glaucoma on its own. If you have higher levels of intraocular pressure, it's easy to combine cataract surgery with another procedure that can reduce intraocular pressure levels even more.
Minimally-invasive glaucoma surgery places a very tiny stent into the white of your eye that allows fluid to slowly drain out, which helps to relieve pressure. It's often combined with targeted laser therapy that disrupts the glands that produce the fluid in your eye, which results in the fluid building up slowly. When combined, these procedures help keep your intraocular pressure low.
Combining minimally-invasive glaucoma surgery with your cataract surgery at the same visit to your eye surgeon allows you to treat both conditions at once. Minimally-invasive glaucoma surgery causes very little disruption to your eye, so it doesn't make recovering from cataract surgery more difficult, and performing both procedures at the same time is still a quick operation.
Some people are able to discontinue their glaucoma medications after having minimally-invasive glaucoma surgery. The stent alone is enough to keep intraocular pressure normal. This is a great benefit for many patients, as putting multiple glaucoma drops into your eyes each day is a hassle, and the medications themselves can be quite expensive.
If you have glaucoma and would like to remove your cataracts in order to improve your vision, talk to an eye surgeon about your options. If your glaucoma is well-controlled, it's likely that you will be a good candidate for surgery, and you'll be able to treat your glaucoma and help prevent glaucoma-related blindness at the same time by having your cataracts removed.