Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes a buildup of pressure within the eye, resulting in optic nerve damage and vision loss if not treated early. If you have been diagnosed with this condition, you may have been prescribed medicated eye drops, oral medication, or possibly laser surgery to help drain the fluid within the eye. In some some cases, however, these methods fail to bring results. If you have been treated unsuccessfully with the more common methods, your eye doctor may recommend a procedure known as aqueous shunt surgery. Here are 5 pertinent questions answered relating to this procedure:
1. What Is the Aqueous Shunt and Why Might It Be Necessary?
Individuals with glaucoma often have accumulated fluid that is unable to drain. In medical terms, this fluid is known as aqueous humor. Simply put, the aqueous shunt is a tiny tube-like device that is implanted in the eye. The purpose of the shunt is to reduce eye pressure (referred to as intraocular pressure or IOP) through proper drainage. Any fluid that is drained will be absorbed into the bloodstream. Although the implantation is intended to prevent worsening damage from glaucoma, it will not help you regain lost vision. A major advantage in the shunt implantation is eliminating your dependence on eye drops and medications to reduce eye pressure.
Why might you need to have aqueous shunt surgery? Perhaps you've already been treated with the standard options, such as medicated eye drops or pills. If these treatments did not bring satisfactory results, your ophthalmologist may have performed traditional laser surgery to help drain the fluids in the eye. If the above methods failed to bring results, implanting a shunt may be the way to go.
2. How Is the Procedure Performed?
Your eye surgeon will create a small opening within the wall of the affected eye. The tiny tube-like device will then be inserted into the opening, which is typically between the cornea and the white of the eye. Your surgeon may place a stitch or two in the eye. The stitch will typically dissolve on its own within a few weeks. Stitches will help prevent excessive drainage that often occurs after this type of surgery.
3. How Should One Prepare for the Surgery?
As a standard precaution, before you have the surgery your primary care physician should perform a complete examination to determine the state of your general health. Blood tests are often recommended as well. If you have any heart-related issues, an electrocardiogram may be performed. Your physician may also advise you to stop taking blood thinning medications several days prior to surgery.
Generally, the patient is told not to consume food or liquids several hours prior to surgery. Your surgeon will have these instructions for you. Inform the surgeon of any medical issues or medications you currently take. Follow the instructions as advised by your doctor.
4. What Are the Risks and Side Effects?
Typically, the procedure is performed under general anesthesia and in most cases, pain or discomfort will be minimal. As in the case of any type of surgery, there is always some risk of complications, however. Although it is uncommon, hemorrhage (heavy bleeding) and infection may occur. In rare instances, double vision or vision loss may result. If your eye doctor has recommended the shunt surgery, he or she generally believes the benefits outweigh any possible risks.
5. What Does Post-Operative Care Involve?
Most likely, you will be prescribed medication after the surgery to prevent infection and relieve irritation. Your eye surgeon may also recommend wearing a protective eye patch or shield over your eye while lying down or sleeping. You may be told to restrict physical activity and heavy lifting for a period of time as well. As always, follow your doctor's instructions and report unusual symptoms or side effects at once.