iStent provides permanent relief for glaucoma patients

Over 2.2 million Americans suffer from glaucoma — now a new procedure may relieve symptoms.

Glaucoma is a disease in which there is a buildup of pressure behind the eye. The pressure often damages the optic nerve and can result in vision loss and blindness if not treated properly.  Most glaucoma patients use eye drops to treat the disease. However, managing the eye drops— which sometimes need to be administered multiple times during the day— can be cumbersome.

"I'm very bad in remembering to take medicine or eye drops. But I do my best," 78-year-old Emad Khaja, who used three different eye drops for his glaucoma, told

One solution for managing the disease is a new minimally invasive surgical procedure that inserts a device called iStent, providing a more permanent solution for glaucoma patients.

"iStent is a novel device that is the latest tool we have to fight glaucoma,” said Dr. Tal Raviv, an ophthalmologist in New York City. “It's a small stent that's used to overcome the blockage that's present in glaucoma,"

iStent is the smallest device to be implanted in the human body and works by opening up the blockage to relieve the pressure. Like stents used in other parts of the body, doctors insert the iStent by visualizing the blockage and bypassing it.

Currently, the iStent procedure is recommended for patients with cataracts and glaucoma. The procedure typically takes an additional ten minutes after the cataract surgery and patients can go home on the same day.

“What's wonderful about the iStent is because it's so minimally invasive, the follow-up is no different than a typical cataract surgery follow up,” Raviv said.

In clinical trials, 85 percent of patients who received the iStent were off of the eye drops within a year.

Khaja recently underwent the iStent procedure.

"I can see better and hopefully, as the doctor mentioned, the drops will taper off,” he said.

Medicare and most insurance companies cover the cost of the iStent.

“I think what's great about the iStent is it's the first in a whole line of products which is going to fundamentally change the way we treat glaucoma. This is just the first tool we have in this country… we can just bypass the blockage and avoid years of eye drops which have cost and side effects to the patients,” Raviv said.