The new study is the latest contribution to a long-running debate about whether glaucoma itself can increase the risk for death, said Dr. Louis Pasquale, director of the glaucoma service at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Hospital. A number of studies have come to differing conclusions on the issue, said Pasquale, who has published a meta-analysis of such studies.
"When you analyze them all together, it appears that glaucoma is associated neither with premature death or later-onset death," he said.
The latest finding is a valuable contribution to the debate, Pasquale said. "Dr. Stein has opened the eyes of researchers that medications need to be taken into account when trying to understand the relationship between glaucoma and mortality," he said.
Dr. Stuart McKinnon, an associate professor of ophthalmology and neurobiology at Duke University, said the finding reinforces the belief that glaucoma medications are safe.
"If I were talking to a patient, I would be cautiously optimistic, saying that the data base shows it possibly will help you but there is no harm in taking glaucoma eyedrops or other medications," McKinnon said.
However, participants in the study included relatively few black patients, who are more likely to have glaucoma, he noted.
"In terms of statistics, it is a real outcome, but you have to be careful how you apply it," McKinnon said. "That's my bottom line."
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