What You Must Know About Glaucoma
By Sondra Forsyth
In April of 2013, I went for my annual eye exam. I’ve worn glasses or contacts for distance correction ever since elementary school but over the years, other than the usual age-related need for “readers”, I’ve never had any vision problems. This time, though, I saw a look of concern flash across the optometrist’s face when she did the test for ocular pressure.
“Is something wrong?” I asked.
“Probably not,” she answered. “But your pressure is a little higher than it should be. I want you to go to an ophthalmologist for a check up.”
An ophthalmologist – a word that I can now both say and spell – is an eye doctor with an MD degree. I had never needed to visit one before and I was frankly terrified. I had Googled “ocular pressure” and the word “glaucoma” had popped up. Was I going to go blind?
I won’t keep you in suspense: The answer is no. I do indeed have the very slight beginning of glaucoma in my right eye but the disease can be controlled indefinitely with prescription eye drops. My doctor, a jovial and encouraging practitioner on New York City’s Upper West Side where I live, had me do a visual field test during which I was supposed to click a device when I saw blue points on a yellow background. I missed a couple of them with my right eye so she gave me a second try. I still missed them.
“You need to thank that optometrist for catching this so early,” the doctor said. “Put one drop of Lumigan in each eye before bed every night and come back in two months so I can check your pressure again.”
I did, and my pressure was in the normal range. Halleluiah! Not only that but as a nice bonus, my eyelashes had grown long and lush. You may have heard of the FDA-approved topical cosmetic called Latisse that promises to make your lashes fuller. The generic name is bimatoprost and Lumigan is a form of that drug as well. A warning, however: Latisse can have side effects including dry eyes, redness, darkened eyelids, and even turning blue eyes brown. If I were you, and you don’t need Lumigan for glaucoma, I’d stick with lash thickening mascara!
But I digress. Here from the Glaucoma Research Foundation and from my ophthalmologist are facts about the disease that you need to know:
*Glaucoma has been dubbed “the sneak thief of sight” because as much as 40% of vision can be lost without a person noticing. Once vision is lost, it can’t be restored, so please get your annual eye exam!
*An estimated 2.7 million people in the United States over age 40 have glaucoma. The National Eye Institute projects that this number will reach 4.2 million by 2030, a whopping 58 percent increase.
*Although the most common forms of the disease primarily affect the middle-aged and the elderly, glaucoma can affect people of all ages. My daughter had early signs of glaucoma in her 30s.
*Glaucoma doesn’t seem to be inherited from one’s parents, but for some reason siblings may all have the disease. That’s why I asked my son to get his eyes checked when I learned hat his sister had a slight indication of the glaucoma at a young age. (He doesn’t have it.)
*Those at higher risk for glaucoma include people of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent, people over 60, family members of those already diagnosed, diabetics, and people who are severely nearsighted. (That’s me!) Regular eye exams are especially important for those at higher risk for the disease.
*Glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness, yet the World Health Organization estimates that 4.5 million people worldwide are blind due to the disease. In the United States alone, approximately 120,000 are blind from glaucoma. Don’t let that happen to you!
*There are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG), and angle-closure glaucoma. These are marked by an increase of intraocular pressure (IOP), or pressure inside the eye. When optic nerve damage has occurred despite a normal IOP, this is called normal tension glaucoma. Secondary glaucoma refers to any case in which another disease causes or contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in optic nerve damage and vision loss.
The Glaucoma Research Foundation is a national non-profit organization funding innovative research to preserve vision and find a cure for glaucoma. Gifts of every size make a difference. Watch a video from the research scientists working to find a cure. Why not donate online today?
Sondra Forsyth is Co-Editor-in-Chief of ThirdAge.com. She is a National Magazine Award winner with scores of major magazine bylines and twelve books to her credit. Her most recent book is “Candida Cleanse: The 21-Day Diet to Beat Yeast and Feel Your Best”. Sondra was Executive Editor at “Ladies’ Home Journal,” Features Editor at “Cosmopolitan,” and Articles Editor at “Bride’s.” A former ballerina, she founded Ballet Ambassadors, an arts-in-education company in New York City, and served as Artistic Director for 16 years.