What is a glaucoma drainage implant?
A glaucoma drainage implant is a tiny device placed in the eye to treat glaucoma.
Your ophthalmologist may suggest a drainage implant, eyedrop medicine and laser treatments if you have not dropped your eye pressure enough. No treatment can completely fix the damage already done to the optic nerve. But drainage implants can help block further damage from glaucoma.
With glaucoma, aqueous humor does not empty out properly from the front of the eye. Pressure builds in the eye, which damages the optic nerve. If it is not treated, glaucoma leads to blindness. A drainage implant (also called an aqueous shunt or tube shunt) creates a new way for aqueous humor to drain from the eye. This helps to lower your eyeball pressure.
Eye words to know
Optic nerve: A nerve at the back of your eye that attaches to your brain. The optic nerve sends light signals to your brain so you are able to see.
Aqueous humor (“aqueous”): transparent liquid inside the front part of our eyes. It moistens the eye and keeps its shape. (Aqueous is different from tears.)
Drainage angle: The region of the eye where the aqueous humor drains from the front of the eye.
Sclera: The white region of your eye.
Conjunctiva: Clear tissue covering the white part of your eye and the within your eyelids.
How is glaucoma drainage implant surgery performed?
Glaucoma drainage implant surgery is done in an outpatient surgery center or a hospital. The procedure usually takes about an hour or less. Here is what happens:
Most people with a glaucoma drainage implant will need to continue taking their glaucoma medications.
You will need to see your ophthalmologist a couple of times in the weeks after surgery for follow-up care. Be sure to keep these appointments.
You will be given anesthesia to numb your eye area and medicine to help you unwind. There are multiple types of glaucoma drainage implants. All have a soft, bendy tube connected to a small plate. That plate is very thin and curved to fit nicely against your eyeball. Your eye surgeon will make a pocket under the transparent conjunctiva. The plate will be placed in this pocket and lie on the sclera. The tiny tube that is attached to the plate will be inserted into the front part of your eye. Aqueous liquid flows out of your eye through this tube, lowering the eye pressure. The fluid gathers in a pool on top of the plate (called a reservoir or bleb). That fluid is absorbed naturally by your body. After the procedure, your eye may be patched and you may need to wear the patch overnight. Plan to have someone drive you home after the surgery. Your vision may be blurry for several days to a few weeks. Your ophthalmologist will prescribe medicines to take for several weeks after the procedure. These medicines help prevent infection, discomfort and scarring from surgery. You should not bend over, strain or lift heavy materials as you recover. Your eye doctor will give you clear instructions and tell you when you can do certain activities again.
A glaucoma drainage implant creates a new way for aqueous liquid to drain from the eye.
What are the possible risks for this surgery?
Like any surgery, glaucoma drainage implants carry the risk of problems or complications. Here are some of those risks:
- Scarring in or on the eyeball
- Infection in the eye
Bleeding in the eye or too much fluid leaving the eye, making eye pressure too low Cataract (when the naturally clear lens in your eye gets cloudy)
- Double vision
Need for a second glaucoma surgery or removal of the implant
Tell your ophthalmologist if you take aspirin or blood thinners. These can increase your likelihood of bleeding issues with surgery.
Call your ophthalmologist immediately if your eye is red, painful or just does not feel right. This could be a sign of infection and it must be treated right away.
Your ophthalmologist will talk with you about the risks and benefits of a drainage implant for your glaucoma.
Summary A glaucoma drainage implant is a type of device put in your eye by surgery to treat glaucoma. It may also be called an aqueous shunt or a tube shunt. The implants make a new way for aqueous humor to drain from the eye. This helps to lower eye pressure.
If you have any questions or concerns about your eyes or your vision, speak with your ophthalmologist. He or she is committed to protecting your sight.