The American Academy of Ophthalmology, the American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery, and the American Urological Association alerted applicants for cataract surgery that they need to inform their doctors if they have taken Flomax, Hytrin, Cardura, Uroxatral or other alpha-blocker drugs.
Dr. David F. Chang, a clinical professor of ophthalmology at the University of California, San Francisco, and researcher Dr. John Campbell tracked 1,600 cataract surgery patients and found that current or previous use of alpha-blockers -- especially Flomax -- apparently prevents the muscle of the iris (the colored part of the eye) from keeping the pupil completely open during the surgery. Dilation of the pupil is necessary for surgeons to remove the cataract-affected lens properly.
"If we know that patients have ever used Flomax or the other drugs, we can use different, longer-lasting dilation eye drops or micro-hooks to keep the pupil completely dilated during surgery," Chang says. "Taking these measures, which eye surgeons normally wouldn't use, will prevent potential problems and result in an excellent prognosis."
Alpha-blockers combat the need for patients with enlarged prostate to urinate suddenly and frequently by controlling a receptor in the prostate muscle. However, the same receptor controls the dilation muscle in the iris and pupil, according to Chang.
"All pharmaceuticals have unintended side effects," said Mike Adams, a consumer health advocate. "They may be sold to treat one specific condition, but the truth is that these patented, synthetic chemicals are circulated throughout the body and inevitably impact tissues and organs that were never intended to be treated in the first place."
A spokeswoman for Boehringer Ingelheim Pharmaceuticals -- which makes Flomax -- says the company has sent letters to ophthalmologists and eye surgeons about possible surgical complications associated with the drug. In November 2005, the FDA approved a change to the labels of alpha-blockers that warns patients to "be prepared for possible modifications to their surgical technique."