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Glaucoma surgery (trabeculectomy)

3-minute read

This page will give you information about glaucoma surgery. If you have any questions, you should ask your GP or other relevant health professional.

What is glaucoma?

The optic nerve carries images from the retina (light-sensitive layer at the back of your eye) to your brain, allowing you to see.

Glaucoma is the name given to a group of conditions that cause damage to the optic nerve where it leaves your eye. Glaucoma can cause loss of vision.

Glaucoma can be caused by an increase in pressure in your eye.

Illustration showing a cross section of an eye.
Cross-section of the eye.

Sometimes the optic nerve can be damaged, even though the pressure in your eye is within the normal range.

What are the benefits of surgery?

The aim is to reduce the risk of further damage to the optic nerve.

Are there any alternatives to surgery?

You can use eye drops to lower the pressure.

Laser treatment may be suitable for you but is often less effective than surgery.

What does the operation involve?

Various anaesthetic techniques are possible, including a general anaesthetic or a local anaesthetic that is injected around your eye to numb it.

The operation usually takes 45 to 75 minutes.

Your surgeon will make a small draining hole in the lining of the white of your eye. The fluid will drain out into a space in the outer lining of your eye and collect just under your eyelid.

What complications can happen?

General complications of any operation

  • pain
  • bleeding
  • infection

Specific early complications

  • heavy bleeding inside your eye
  • bleeding at the front of your eye
  • inflammation in your other eye
  • too much fluid draining
  • sharp rise in eye pressure

Specific late complications

  • developing a cataract
  • reduced vision over time
  • failure of the operation

How soon will I recover?

You should be able to go home after a few hours.

Your surgeon will need to check your eye the day after the operation. They will see you several times in clinic during the first few weeks and may perform minor adjustments.

Most people will need about 2 weeks off work.

Do not swim, lift anything heavy or bend so your head is below your waist until you have checked with your surgeon.

Regular exercise should help you to return to normal activities as soon as possible. Before you start exercising, ask the healthcare team or your GP for advice.

Most people make a good recovery from the operation, with their glaucoma under better control.


Glaucoma is a common problem, causing damage to the optic nerve where it leaves your eye. If eye drops do not help enough, glaucoma surgery can be performed to reduce the risk of further damage to the optic nerve.

The operation and treatment information on this page is published under license by Healthdirect Australia from EIDO Healthcare Australia and is protected by copyright laws. Other than for your personal, non-commercial use, you may not copy, print out, download or otherwise reproduce any of the information. The information should not replace advice that your relevant health professional would give you.

For more on how this information was prepared, click here.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: September 2019

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