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Glaucoma: Unproven Treatment Methods

Topic Overview

Glaucoma can't be cured, and treatment doesn't always prevent further loss of vision, So you may be attracted to a treatment that some people claim is helpful, even though it has not been medically proved to work. Some alternative remedies can be harmful. Even when these treatments are not harmful, they can be expensive and time-consuming. Some alternative or complementary treatments have been tried for glaucoma. Although they may have some benefits, most alternative therapies either have not been studied or have not been shown to be effective in the treatment of glaucoma.

Examples of unproven methods to treat glaucoma include:

  • Vitamin and nutrient supplements. There is no conclusive evidence that vitamin deficiencies cause glaucoma or that taking high doses of vitamins will either prevent or help treat glaucoma. High doses of some supplements can cause problems. For example, vitamin A poisoning can occur if large amounts of vitamin A are taken.
  • Herbal remedies. Some herbal agents, such as ginkgo biloba and vinpocetine (vinca minor), may have some benefits. But they have not been well studied. Also, potential toxicity or side effects from these preparations have not been studied.
  • Marijuana (Cannabis). Inhaled marijuana smoke has been shown to result in an average 25% reduction in intraocular pressure (IOP), but the effect only lasts for about 3 to 4 hours. Also, not all people who use marijuana have this reduction in IOP. It only occurs in about 60 to 65 out of 100 users. Also, the smoke has toxic effects on other parts of the body, particularly in the lungs. And substances in the smoke cause changes in mental state. The amount of marijuana you would need to smoke to keep eye pressure down would cause significant side effects. Because of these toxic and psychoactive effects, along with the short duration of the beneficial effect of lowering pressure in the eye, marijuana is considered a poor treatment option and is not recommended for glaucoma.footnote 1, footnote 2
  • Exercise. Exercise has been shown to have effects that can both raise and lower pressure in the eyes over the short term (during and immediately after exercise) and lower pressure in the eyes over the long term (when you engage in regular moderate to heavy exercise). Exercise may help to improve overall health, but the beneficial effects for glaucoma appear to be minor and do not occur in all people.
  • Diet therapy. Highly restrictive diets supplemented by vitamins, minerals, and amino acids or diets rich in nutrients have been thought to reduce the effects of glaucoma. But no conclusive evidence shows that diet or obesity plays any role in either the development or treatment of glaucoma. There could be a danger of malnutrition if the diet is not balanced.
  • Acupuncture. Acupuncture, in which very thin needles are placed into the skin at specific points on the body, is a standard part of medicine in the Far East. And it is becoming more common in the United States and Canada. There is very limited evidence that acupuncture may have some effect on lowering pressure in the eyes. But there is no evidence that it has any benefit in the treatment of glaucoma.

Many doctors believe glaucoma is a neurodegenerative disease, rather than just a disease of high IOP. There is interest in treatments that help protect the nerve cells in the eye from damage caused by glaucoma (neuroprotective therapy). Although a number of these therapies are being investigated, none has yet been proved to be both safe and effective in the treatment of glaucoma.

Related Information

References

Citations

  1. American Academy of Ophthalmology (2003). Marijuana in the treatment of glaucoma (complementary therapy assessment). San Francisco: American Academy of Ophthalmology. Also available online: http://one.aao.org/CE/PracticeGuidelines/Therapy_Content.aspx?cid=9871fa42-cf40-4c1f-b05c-c816d5f93126.
  2. National Eye Institute (2009). NEI Statement: Glaucoma and Marijuana Use. Available online: http://www.nei.nih.gov/news/statements/marij.asp.

Other Works Consulted

  • Ritch R (2005). Complementary therapy for the treatment of glaucoma: A perspective. Ophthalmology Clinics of North America, 18: 597-609.

Credits

ByHealthwise Staff
Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
Specialist Medical ReviewerChristopher J. Rudnisky, MD, MPH, FRCSC - Ophthalmology

Current as ofDecember 3, 2017


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