Since medications and eye drops can cause undesirable side effects or simply fail to control glaucoma, and because patients frequently fail to take their medications, laser therapy may be a better alternative. With traditional argon laser trabeculoplasty (ALT), tiny, evenly spaced burns are made in the trabecular meshwork with an argon laser. These laser burns facilitate the drainage of aqueous humor. However, scarring of the trabecular meshwork occurs as a result of ALT burns, and may limit its success and the ability to retreat the eye in the future, should the procedure need to be repeated.
Selective Laser Trabeculoplasty (SLT) is an advanced type of laser treatment to manage patients with open-angle glaucoma. Instead of generally burning tissue as in ALT, SLT selectively simulates or changes only specific pigmented cells to activate increased fluid drainage. Both SLT and ALT produce equivalent drops in IOP, however the more gentler SLT procedure does not have the associated damage to other tissues and adverse scarring effects. For this reason, where ALT is limited, SLT may potentially be repeated. SLT has also been found to be effective when ALT and other forms of medical treatment have failed.
*A recent study1 published in the Journal of Glaucoma found that there was no difference in the reduction of eye pressure after SLT compared to that of medicated eye drops when used as a first-line treatment for glaucoma.
SLT is usually performed in the office and only takes about 5 minutes. Prior to the procedure, eye drops will be given to prepare the eye for treatment. The laser applications are made through a special microscope, similar to the one used for eye examinations. About 1-2 hours of office time should be planned (depending on the treating physician) so eye pressure can be checked after the eye is treated.
The doctor may treat the eye with anti-inflammatory eye drops that will be continued for 4 to 7 days after the procedure. Most patients will have to return for follow-up visits to re-check the treated eye. Unlike some glaucoma medication, there are no incidences of allergy or systemic side effects with SLT. Complications are minimal but may include inflammation, temporary increase in IOP, conjunctivitis, or eye pain. For more information about SLT and how it may benefit you, please ask your treating physician.
Vision loss from glaucoma is permanent but can usually be prevented with early detection and treatment. Glaucoma management is usually a lifelong process that requires frequent monitoring and constant treatment. Since there is no way to determine if glaucoma is under control based on how a person feels, a person with glaucoma generally should be examined every 3 to 4 months. If you have experienced a loss of peripheral vision or are having other difficulties with your vision, you should have a complete eye examination.
1 Reference: Katz LJ, et al. J Glaucoma. 2012:doi:10.197/ITG.0b013e318218287f