Approximately half of the glaucoma population in the U.S. goes undiagnosed
Article by Stephanie Handler
Originally published by the Glaucoma Research Foundation.
On April 19, 2011, I was diagnosed with glaucoma, a serious eye disease that can lead to blindness. I made an appointment with my local ophthalmology clinic in San Francisco as soon as I noticed that the vision in my left eye had begun to blur.
“Are you sure I have glaucoma?” I said to the ophthalmologist who first diagnosed me, having only been vaguely familiar with the disease myself.
“Yes, Stephanie, you have glaucoma. It appears advanced in your left eye. I am very concerned about that eye. We are going to administer a few eye drops and ask that you take this pill to make sure your intraocular pressure lowers before you leave today,” said the ophthalmologist.
Shock. Tears. Waves of nausea. The most I had ever been diagnosed with was a cold.
When, where, how…what is it? “It’s because I sit in front of the computer too much, isn’t it? It’s the over-the-counter eye drops I used too often when my eyes were bloodshot? It’s the eye glasses I was wearing late last year as a fashion statement? Or perhaps all the carelessness in the sun in my younger years?” I gasped, trying to catch my breath as tears streamed down my cheeks.
The doctor shook her head. “No Stephanie, it isn’t any of the above. You just have glaucoma. It may be hereditary. After examining your left eye it appears as if you have had this disease a very long time.”
Glaucoma is caused by a buildup of intraocular pressure inside the eye which affects the optic nerve. The optic nerve transmits visual information to the brain. Glaucoma is commonly called “the silent vision thief” because there are no symptoms. It turns out I was walking around for at least 10 years without having a clue that I had this disease. And as far as I know, there is no history of glaucoma affecting any family members.
My last visit to an eye doctor before this experience was circa 1997, when I couldn’t get a piece of sand out of my eye after going to the beach. Truthfully, I had always relied on an internist when it came to my health. Yearly visits to my primary doctor after checking my pupils with that little light seemed enough for me. I had no need for eyeglasses. I had perfect vision. Boy, was I wrong. It turns out that my intraocular pressure (IOP) was initially measured at 56 mmHg in my left eye. A normal IOP reading is along the lines of 10 – 21 mmHg. Thankfully, my IOP in both eyes had decreased at the end of my initial appointment and I went home with medication to help lower my eye pressure.
I returned to the San Francisco ophthalmology clinic the following morning to visit a glaucoma specialist. The doctor and I hit it off right away, but, aside from my IOP reading declining miraculously to an 8 mmHg in my left eye and a 7 mmHg in my right eye (originally 24 mmHg), I didn’t appreciate the news he had for me after examining my vision.
“You have advanced glaucoma, Stephanie, and you are at high risk for the probability of going blind in your left eye in your lifetime,” said the glaucoma specialist.
Shock. Tears. Waves of nausea.
He then went on to say, “But of course you are going to live a very long life, so we don’t know when this will happen. In your lifetime it is hopeful there will be treatment to cure this disease. In the meantime, the pressure in your eye can be controlled with eye drops and there are options for surgical procedures as well.” We agreed that the goal right now is to sustain the vision that I have, which I would be perfectly happy with as it stands.
Although my vision has been affected in my left eye, it is only slightly blurred if I close my right eye, otherwise things look pretty good as I look through both eyes. I will never neglect my eye health again.
I have learned an immense amount about vision care and eye disease since my diagnosis and have had the opportunity to collaborate with some highly respected organizations in San Francisco. Glaucoma Research Foundation(GRF) has invested millions in research to find a cure since 1978, and the organization provides an extensive variety of helpful materials as well as a user-friendly website for glaucoma patients.
Stephanie Handler has been a staunch patient advocate involved in the glaucoma community in the San Francisco Bay Area since her diagnosis in 2011, and she continues to volunteer regularly for Glaucoma Research Foundation events. She also enjoys being an active member of the Bay Area Waterski Club.
Thank you, Stephanie, for allowing us to share your encouraging story.
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