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    Tube-Shunt Surgery for Glaucoma

    Tube-shunt surgery (seton glaucoma surgery) involves placing a flexible plastic tube with an attached silicone drainage pouch in the eye to help drain fluid (aqueous humor) from the eye. This type of surgery is usually done after a trabeculectomy that failed. If a person already has or is likely to form scar tissue in the eye, this type of surgery may be done at the start.

    Tube-shunt surgery can be done with the person asleep (general anesthesia) or with anesthetic applied only to the eye (local anesthesia).

    What To Expect After Surgery

    The person does not have to be admitted to the hospital. But children may stay in the hospital overnight following surgery. And in some cases, your doctor may recommend that you stay in the hospital overnight following surgery.

    The person usually sees the doctor within a day after tube-shunt surgery and 2 to 5 other times during the 6 weeks after surgery, depending on the person's recovery.

    Initially after surgery, antibiotics may be applied to the eye. Antibiotics may also be injected under the lining of the eyelid (conjunctiva) at the time of the surgery. At the end of surgery, the eyelid is usually taped shut, and a hard covering (eye shield) is placed over the eye. Corticosteroid medicines are usually applied to the eye for about 1 to 2 months after surgery to reduce inflammation in the eye.

    Physical activity that might jar the eye needs to be avoided after surgery. For several weeks after surgery, the person usually needs to avoid bending, lifting, or straining.

    After surgery, people who have problems with constipation may need to take laxatives to avoid straining while trying to pass stools. Straining can raise the pressure inside the eye. Your doctor may suggest wearing a shield at night to avoid rubbing the eye when you sleep.

    Why It Is Done

    Tube-shunt surgery is most often used for people who have had previous trabeculectomy surgery that was not successful, usually due to scarring.

    Tube-shunt surgery is also frequently used to treat glaucoma when a person has a:

    How Well It Works

    More than half of tube-shunt surgeries are successful. This surgery has been shown to reduce intraocular pressure (IOP) and the need for further glaucoma treatment.1


    Complications of tube-shunt surgery that may occur right after surgery include:

    • High pressure in the eye, causing the space in the front part of the eye (anterior chamber) to collapse (malignant glaucoma).
    • Inflammation in the eye.
    • Bleeding or blood in the eye (hyphema).
    • Softening of the eyeball due to fluid loss (hypotony).
    • Movement of the tube causing it to come in contact with the clear cover of the eye (cornea), the iris, or the lens. This can affect vision or proper function of the eye.

    Late complications of tube-shunt surgery include:

    • Scar tissue forming around the device. The chances of this complication can be reduced if medicines, such as steroids, are used.
    • Softening of the eyeball due to fluid loss (hypotony), leading to clouding of the lens (cataract).
    • Infection in the eye.
    • Blood in the eye (hyphema).
    • Eye muscle imbalance, resulting in double vision.

    What To Think About

    Tube-shunt pouches are not often used as a first treatment for glaucoma. The advantage of tube-shunt surgery for glaucoma is that there is less chance of severe scarring that can block the drainage opening. This can be an important consideration for people who have had prior surgery for glaucoma that did not work. But the complications from tube-shunt surgery can be serious too.

    Complete the surgery information form (PDF)(What is a PDF document?) to help you prepare for this surgery.


    1. Gedde SJ, et al. (2009). Three-year follow-up of the tube versus trabeculectomy study. American Journal of Ophthalmology,148(5): 670-84.

    ByHealthwise Staff
    Primary Medical ReviewerAdam Husney, MD - Family Medicine
    Specialist Medical ReviewerChristopher J. Rudnisky, MD, MPH, FRCSC - Ophthalmology

    Current as ofSeptember 9, 2014

    WebMD Medical Reference from Healthwise

    Last Updated: September 09, 2014
    This information is not intended to replace the advice of a doctor. Healthwise disclaims any liability for the decisions you make based on this information.

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