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Eye drop misuse is threatening the sight of 150,000 Australians with glaucoma


Although there is no cure for glaucoma, various treatments are available to slow or prevent further vision loss. For many, eye drops represent the most simple and cost-effective option for managing increased pressure in the eye – the most common cause of glaucoma.

According to Dr Lei Liu, a glaucoma specialist at Vision Eye Institute, a large number of people are putting their sight at risk by missing doses or stopping use of their eye drops altogether.

“Glaucoma is called the ‘sneak thief of sight’ because it has no symptoms during the early stages,” says Dr Liu. “Similarly, when patients skip or stop using their eye drops, they don’t usually notice any immediate effects or changes to their vision. A lot of people don’t treat eye drops like a medicine, but that’s exactly what they are.”

This misuse of eye drops isn’t just a local trend seen by Dr Liu at her Vision Eye Institute Clinic in Boronia. A study conducted in over 17,000 people with glaucoma in Australia showed that 44% of patients stopped taking their treatment within the first six months, increasing to 52% of patients at one year.1

A lot of people don’t treat eye drops like a medicine, but that’s exactly what they are.

Another glaucoma specialist, Dr Ed Boets, who consults at Vision Eye Institute Mackay, explains that it’s essential for people with glaucoma to visit their ophthalmologist before changing or discontinuing treatment.

“It may seem logical to assume that if the eyes feel comfortable without treatment, then eye pressure must be within a normal range. However, this isn’t the case and further vision loss can – and does – occur without any symptoms,” says Dr Boets. “The only way to accurately measure eye pressure is with a special tool, called a tonometer.

“On the flipside, some people experience side-effects from their eye drops, such as stinging or irritation. But as with any medicine, it’s important not to discontinue treatment without consulting a healthcare professional – in this case, the prescribing ophthalmologist or optometrist.”

Dr Jason Cheng, a glaucoma specialist who practises at Vision Eye Institute Bondi Junction and Hurstville, has some tips for helping people to remember their eye drops. “Try to establish a routine by setting a daily alarm or administering eye drops at the same time every day, such as first thing in the morning or straight after a set meal or television program. It may also be helpful to figure out how long a bottle of eye drops usually lasts and then mark a refill date on the calendar to avoid running out.”

When administered correctly, eye drops can be a very effective option for managing glaucoma, but Dr Cheng stresses that it’s still important to schedule regular eye checks.

“Everybody responds differently to medicines, and eye drops are no different. In some people, eye drops may not reduce eye pressure as expected, or they can become less effective over time. In others, a different combination of eye drops, or glaucoma surgery – such as filtration or drainage surgery – may turn out to be a better fit. An ophthalmologist will be able to advise the most suitable option.”

Quick facts about glaucoma2,3

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Glaucoma specialists

Dr Lei Liu is a specialist in glaucoma and cataracts, and also provides general ophthalmic care. She has over a decade of local and international experience, having trained and practised in Germany, the UK and Australia. Dr Liu consults at Vision Eye Institute Boronia.

Dr Jason Cheng specialises in glaucoma management using medication, laser treatment and surgery. He also specialises in cataract surgery. Dr Cheng consults at Vision Eye Institute Bondi Junction and Hurstville.

Dr Ed Boets is a specialist in glaucoma, strabismus (crossed eyes) and cataracts, and also provides general ophthalmic care. He has many years of experience as an ophthalmologist, having run his own practice in the Netherlands for nine years before moving to Australia. Dr Boets consults at Vision Eye Institute Mackay.


  1. Healey P, et al. Loss to follow-up may be reason for poor glaucoma medication adherence. Poster: World Glaucoma Congress Paris, 2011. See https://www.glaucoma.org.au/health-professionals/pharmacist-resource-centre. Accessed 1 August 2018.
  2. Glaucoma Australia. https://www.glaucoma.org.au/about-glaucoma/facts-and-faqs/. Accessed 1 August 2018.
  3. Vision Eye Institute. https://visioneyeinstitute.com.au/services/glaucoma. Accessed 1 August 2018.


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