January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month. Glaucoma is a major cause of blindness for people over the age of 60. It is an eye disease that typically causes vision loss by damage to the optic nerve. The optic nerve is located in the back of the eye, and transfers visual information from the retina to the vision centers of the brain via electrical impulses. Eye pressure typically increases because fluid cannot drain from the tissue around the eye. As the pressure builds, it damages the optic nerve. Abnormal blood pressure, diabetes, cardiovascular disease and race are all risk factors for glaucoma, according to the National Eye Institute.
Damage caused by glaucoma to vision cannot be reversed; however, early treatment can slow or prevent full vision loss. The most common treatment for glaucoma is eye drops. It is important to carefully follow the prescription or pharmacy instructions as the eye drops help decrease eye pressure.
Putting in eye drops can be difficult. People blink or miss the eye altogether. Getting medication into the eye takes practice and patience. Here are a few tips:
- To practice putting in eye drops, use artificial tears. That way if you miss, you aren’t wasting a medication.
- It is easy to determine if the drops make it to the eye or down the cheek if they are chilled. Check with the pharmacy to determine if your eye drops can be chilled. If they can, put eye drops in the refrigerator.
- Wash your hands before practicing. Be careful not to let the tip of the dropper touch any part of the eye or face. If it does, be sure and clean the dropper.
- If you put in more than one kind of eye drop, wait 5 minutes between drops to prevent flushing out the first drop with the second drop.
Two Methods of Putting in Drops:
- Tilt your head backward while sitting, standing, or lying down. Be very careful if standing and tilting your head back as you might lose your balance. Lying on your back may not be comfortable. If sitting, this is the time to use a recliner as you can get your head in almost a reclining position.
- Place your index finger on the soft spot just below the lower lid. Your index finger will be about halfway between the inside and outside corners of the eye. Gently pull the lid down.
- Look up.
- Using your other hand on the medication bottle, squeeze one drop into the lower lid that has been pulled down.
- Close your eye and keep it closed for about 3 minutes. An alternate strategy is to gently press on the inside corner of the eye (nose side) with your index finger. This prevents the drop from draining into your throat and get taken up by the blood stream.
Note: Closing the tear ducts, which are located on the inner corner—toward the nose—of the eyelids, is very important to prevent medicines from entering the bloodstream. Medicines that enter the bloodstream can cause undesired side effects including memory loss. Putting your index finger of the hand not holding the eye drop bottle can close these ducts.
- After three minutes, blot around your eye to pick up any excess.
Method 1 instructions adapted from the Glaucoma Research Foundation, glaucoma.org.
- Lie down flat on a bed or recliner in its fully reclined position.
- Position the dropper directly over the eye.
- Close your eyes.
- Squeeze a drop into the inside corner of the eye (nose side).
- SLOWLY open your eye and let the drop fall into the eye.
- Slightly tip the head to the side and close the eye. Keep it closed for about 3 minutes.
- After 3 minutes, blot around your eye to pick up any excess.
Method 2 instructions adapted from VisionAware, visionaware.org.
For a video on how to safely instill eyedrops, watch this Mayo Clinic video.
Adaptive Devices That May Help
Eye Drop Guide: An eye drop guide holds the eye open and positions the medication bottle over the eye. The open end of the oval-shaped cup sits on the eye and prevents the upper lid from closing. The other end of the cup has a hole in which the medication bottle sits. Available in the Sharper Vision Store and at store.WCBlind.org/health.
Eye Drop Bottle Squeezer: An eye drop bottle squeezer helps squeeze out the drops when hands are weak or the bottle is too small to get a good grip on it. The squeezer is made of two plastic paddles. The eyedropper’s neck slides into the small end of the paddles. When the paddles are pressed together, they squeeze the medication bottle. Available online at maxiaids.com.
Knowing how to safely put in eye drops can help increase the effectiveness of glaucoma medications. Even if it is not the most fun, take the time to practice and follow the methods and tips listed above.