CBSN

Tiny new medical device helps glaucoma patients see

Camille Maertz has been living with glaucoma for nearly two decades. The disease can lead to blindness, and treating it with the traditional therapy of eye drops about a dozen times a day is often painful.

"They would either burn or turn my eyes red and inflamed," she told CNET.com's Kara Tsuboi. "We'd keep switching."

More than 3 million Americans are currently living with glaucoma. It's one of the leading causes of blindness when left untreated. Finding an effective way to manage the condition can be frustrating. However, a new device barely visible to the naked eye is offering hope to glaucoma patients.

It turns out that Maertz was the ideal candidate for the iStent, the tiniest implantable device ever approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The iStent, one of many types of eye stents currently in development, releases pressure from the eye. When implanted, patients can't feel the millimeter-long device or even see it without a special microscope. It also completely eliminates the need for eye drops.

"The eye is like a kitchen sink," Dr. George Tanaka, a glaucoma specialist at the Eye Surgery Center of San Francisco, said. "In glaucoma, there's a blockage at the drain so that the pressure in the eye can build up because the fluid has no place to go."

Tanaka said the iStent is a breakthrough for managing the condition, and can work for a number of patients. "This can be done in conjunction with cataract surgery," he said. "The recovery time from the surgery is very quick."

Maertz says the iStent has changed and improved her quality of life. "I can see, I can drive, I can read. I haven't had any problems at all. I don't even know the stents are in there."