Glaucoma Medications and Side Effects

Glaucoma Medications and Side Effects

Glaucoma medications are medicated eye drops or gels that are dropped onto the surface of the eye one or more times each day. The medicine is then absorbed into the eye where it interacts with the structures inside the eye. Eye medications either decrease the production of eye fluid (aqueous) or help clean out the drainage system so it works better. Once started, medications are usually used for many years, and sometimes for the remainder of your life. To be effective, medications must be used every day. A common reason patients go blind from glaucoma is a failure to use the medications on a daily basis. Most glaucoma medications only work for 6-12 hours, so regular dosing is important for them to be effective. If doses are missed, the eye pressure will begin to increase within just a few hours. If you take medications, it is important that you pay attention to how much is in the bottle so that you can get refills at the pharmacy regularly. Try to get to the pharmacy BEFORE the medicine runs out so that you don’t miss any days of treatment. Never stop using a medication without first calling your doctor and discussing with them the problems you are having (side effects, cost, etc.).

To avoid confusion, it is very helpful if you know the exact names of your medications and take the bottles with you when you come in for an eye pressure check at the eye doctor’s office.

Tips on using glaucoma medications

Because some of these drops are expensive, it is good to not waste drops. Helpful ways to get your drops in easily include having a friend or family member put the drops in for you or lying down on the couch or sofa when putting in the drops. To help the medication absorb into the eye, close your eyes for a few minutes after putting the eye drop in. Some doctors recommend gently squeezing the small eyelid drains by the nose for a few minutes after putting the drops in the eye. This is probably no more helpful than closing your eyelids, so we don’t recommend this.

Side Effects

Although glaucoma medications are generally very safe and well-tolerated, there are some possible side effects. All topical eye drops can cause an allergic reaction with redness and itching or eye irritation with burning and a scratchy sensation. Timolol and other Beta-blockers can worsen breathing problems if you have asthma, bronchitis, or COPD. They can also lower the heart rate and cause other heart issues. If you experience any side effects with any medication, you should contact your eye doctor immediately.

Using Medications Correctly

If you have a headache or back pain, a dose of Tylenol usually takes the pain away and makes you feel better. It is easy to take medications that make you feel better. Did you know that patients with chronic medical conditions such as high blood pressure or high cholesterol miss doses or take their medication incorrectly up to 50% of the time? The reason that patients don’t do a good job at taking their medications correctly is that these medical conditions have no symptoms, and the medications give no immediate improvement in how the patient feels. Glaucoma is very similar – it has no symptoms and the eye drops don’t improve the vision or make the eye feel better. In fact, the drops sometimes cause a little eye redness and irritation. Medical studies show that many patients with glaucoma don’t use their eye drops, forgetting doses regularly and in some cases not using the drops at all! The only way you can beat glaucoma is by being a good patient and consistently using your drops correctly. If you miss a dose the eye pressure will increase and you have an increased risk of developing nerve damage. To try to improve your consistency with eye drop medication use, time the doses with some of your daily routine activities. For example, use a morning eye drop when you brush your teeth, or take an evening eye drop with dinner. Keep your eye drop bottle out on the counter in your bathroom, or kitchen where you can see it as a reminder to use it regularly. If you continue to have difficulty using the drops regularly, please be open and honest with your doctor so he can make other recommendations for your treatment. It is important for him to know if you are using the medications correctly.

Financial Concerns

Life can be challenging! People can lose their jobs, lose their insurance, run low on money and then have trouble buying expensive medications or paying for doctor visits. Dr. DeBry wants you to know that he will never let financial concerns interfere with his ability to care for your eyes. It would be a shame to suffer permanent vision loss or even blindness because of financial difficulties. Dr. DeBry can help arrange free care and free medications for patients who qualify for financial hardship. If you have financial difficulties which are interfering with your ability to take care of your glaucoma, please communicate this to Dr. DeBry or his staff. We will work to help overcome these issues and keep your eyes healthy and strong. Remember, glaucoma damage is permanent, so staying on top of your treatment even during difficult times is important.

Peter DeBry
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