Killing Two Birds with One Stone: Cataract and Glaucoma Surgery

The old saying about killing two birds with one stone has been attributed to literary characters like Daedalus and Icarus and to historical figures such as Thomas Hobbs. Whoever actually penned the phrase is not as important as its actual meaning. The Oxford English Dictionary defines the phrase as meaning, “to accomplish two ends at once.”

When it comes to your precious eyes, any time that your eye doctor can accomplish two ends at once, it is good news. This is especially true if you are affected by the age-related conditions of cataracts and glaucoma, two of the leading causes of blindness in the United States. Cataracts are the world’s leading cause of blindness, causing 47.9 percent of visual impairment. Over half of all Americans will be affected by cataracts by the age of 70, and 68 percent by the age of 80.

A cataract is easily diagnosed and can be cured by surgical removal. Glaucoma, on the other hand, is more difficult to diagnose and has no cure. Usually having no symptoms in the early stages, glaucoma is known as “the sneak thief of sight” and can cause painless, permanent, irreversible damage before diagnosis.

Although cataract surgery has been in existence for a long time, glaucoma surgery has been less common because of associated complications and risk. Traditionally, the most common treatment for glaucoma is medicated eye drops which must be taken daily to help reduce intraocular pressure. Drops can be effective when taken as directed, but patients often forget to use the drops and the repercussions are very serious.

New technology has paved the way for patients to go “under the knife” one time for two separate procedures that will cure cataracts and treat glaucoma. A tiny device called the iStent was approved by the FDA in 2012 to treat open-angle glaucoma. The iStent lowers eye pressure by unblocking the trabecular meshwork and increasing the flow of fluid in the eye. A trial in 2012 showed that the iStent did not compromise the cataract procedure, and it allowed 68 percent of patients to be medication-free.
The iStent and cataract surgery is not for everyone. In fact, less than 5 percent of patients with cataracts and glaucoma will have these two procedures performed. However, these breakthrough technologies are always exciting because they mean another step forward in safe, effective and efficient treatment. If you have both cataracts and glaucoma, talk to your doctor. Who knows? Maybe he or she can kill two birds with one stone, and you will have clearer vision and be eye drop-free all in one operation (Source: Miami Herald).