Does Marijuana Really Help Treat Glaucoma?

Medical marijuana is a popular treatment for a variety of maladies. Glaucoma, a disease of the optic nerve which can lead to vision loss and blindness, is often understood to be one of them. But while medical marijuana maintains several therapeutic uses, it is ineffective in the management of glaucoma.

Glaucoma is treated with medicated eyedrops to lower the pressure within the eye.  Marijuana can also lower this pressure. The problem is that marijuana also lowers blood pressure. This can have negative effects on the optic nerve, the structure damaged by the high pressure in glaucoma.

Another problem with marijuana is the pressure lowering effect lasts only three to four hours. This short duration means that a user needs to consume the drug about six to eight times a day to effectively keep eye pressure low.

Unfortunately, the same ingredient in marijuana that lowers eye pressure also produces a high. For most people, controlling their glaucoma with a mind and mood altering drug that needs to be used every three to four hours is not a very good idea.

Marijuana impairs the ability to perform complex tasks such as driving, operating heavy machinery and functioning at maximum mental capacity. Medical marijuana, if smoked, also contains hundreds of compounds that damage the lungs. Chronic, frequent use can also damage the brain.

These concerns and limitations lead the ophthalmology community to conclude that recommending marijuana to treat glaucoma is not in our patients’ best interest.

A comprehensive eye exam is the best way to diagnose and treat glaucoma. Depending on the severity of the condition, your ophthalmologist may recommend treatment ranging from prescription eye drops to laser treatments to surgery.

January 4, 2019

Are Eye Whitening Drops Safe?

Judging from a Google search of ‘Visine and other Eye Whiteners’ (yielding 14 pages of hits,) a lot of people have red and inflamed eyes. We Americans spend about $600 million annually on Visine, Clear Eyes and other similar eye whiteners. Are they safe and effective? The answers are complicated.

There is great interest in eye whitening for a variety of cosmetic and social reasons, (e.g., eye redness from allergies, contact lens wear, environmental irritants, excessive alcohol use, etc.) All of these products do provide temporary eye whitening. So why the concern?

Ophthalmologists are concerned about the masking of more serious eye diseases that cause redness. There are many, including infections, contact lens-related problems, inflammatory diseases and glaucoma. As a rule of thumb, any eye redness that causes pain, reduces eyesight or doesn’t resolve promptly needs medical attention and should not be self-medicated with eye whiteners.

‘Rebound’ redness is another major concern of eye whiteners. Prolonged use can cause a form of addiction whereby stopping the drops causes rebound redness worse than when the redness first started.

Lumify is a new player on the market having received FDA approval late last year. Lumify’s appeal is that it does not cause rebound redness. It actually is a spin-off of a popular glaucoma medication, which has eye whitening as a ‘side effect’. Since Lumify is a very low-dose formulation of a drug that’s been around for years, it’s unlikely to have any long-term problems. It does contain a preservative that can cause significant irritation, especially if used frequently.

The concern about masking of more serious eye disease, of course, remains the same. Ads for Lumify state the drops can be used four times a day. “However, anyone who thinks they need drops that often should first have their eyes checked by an ophthalmologist to find out what's causing the redness,” says Laurie Barber, MD, a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

November 27, 2018

Keep an Eye On Safety, Not Fashion This Halloween!

One of the hottest accessories for Halloween costumes in recent years are decorative contact lenses. When choosing accessories for your Halloween costume, protect your vision and avoid an unwanted scare by wearing only ophthalmologist-approved contact lenses from trusted manufacturers.

Over-the-counter decorative contact lenses have become popular in novelty shops and are easily purchased online, but consumers have no way of knowing whether the products are safe to wear.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology strongly warns against using any over-the-counter non-prescription contact lenses. These lenses may be made with harmful materials that can cause painful corneal ulcers or keratitis, leading to impaired vision or blindness. In addition, lenses with designs printed on them have rough surfaces which can scratch the eye, allowing bacteria to cause infection and potentially blindness. A recent study tested five varieties of decorative lenses and found three contained chlorine and four types of lenses contained iron.

Consumers can obtain FDA-approved decorative contact lenses from reputable manufacturers with a prescription. Your ophthalmologist can provide a copy of your contact lens prescription, giving you the option of buying lenses from an eye care professional or legitimate online retailer. Always buy your contact lenses from a seller that requires a valid prescription.

Ask your ophthalmologist about the risks before you purchase costume lenses, and have your eyes examined right away if you have used over-the-counter lenses. Have a safe and happy Halloween!

October 1, 2018