Tiny drainage device may free some glaucoma patients from eye drop medications

A tiny medical device, no larger than an eyelash, may significantly reduce eye pressure in glaucoma patients and allow some to stop using eye drop medications. In its first trial year in the United States, the Hydrus mini-stent worked well in all patients studied. If future studies prove the long-term effectiveness of the Hydrus and similar mini-stents, it will be a significant victory for glaucoma care. Millions of people could be protected from vision loss or blindness.

Woman instilling eyedrops

Glaucoma is an eye disease that damages the optic nerve. If left untreated, glaucoma eventually leads to blindness. Currently, the only proven way to combat glaucoma is by lowering patients' intraocular pressure (IOP). Eyedrop medications are effective, but some patients struggle to use the drops consistently enough to control their IOP. Surgery is an option for patients with advanced glaucoma, but it can carry additional risks.

The Hydrus mini-stent is implanted in a simple, non-invasive procedure. All 69 patients in the Hydrus study achieved acceptable IOP levels. These patients had mild or moderate open-angle glaucoma â€” the most common form of the disease. Forty of them had the mini-stent implanted during cataract surgery, a procedure that can also help reduce IOP, while the other 29 patients had the stent implant only. No serious complications occurred in either group. At the six-month follow up, 85 percent of combined surgery and 70 percent of stent-only patients no longer needed eye drop medications to control their IOP. The results remained stable at the one year follow up.

Ophthalmologists are hopeful that mini-stents will allow them to treat patients earlier and more effectively, before serious vision loss occurs.  

Stents work by providing a new drainage channel for the eye's aqueous fluid, circumventing the patient's own clogged or blocked channels. They vary in design, materials and where they are implanted in the eye. Though early results are encouraging, it will be several years before the long-term safety and efficacy of this treatment approach will be fully known.

Page updated: Jan. 24, 2014

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