6 Things I'd Tell You About Glaucoma: The Silent Thief of Sight

I saw a post a few weeks ago by Jan at Oh Twist, titled "10 Things I Would Tell My Doctor", that gave me a much clearer picture of what she would like her practitioners to know about her condition. 

I thought it would be interesting to have people communicate what they would say, in their own words, to those they come in contact with.  I think it will help us understand how they feel and what they would like others to know.  

Here are a few things Beata would share with others to help them understand Glaucoma. 

1. Glaucoma does not only affect older people. Everyone is at risk.
The level of risk varies based on age, family history, and ethnicity. 

Childhood glaucoma (also called pediatric or infantile glaucoma) occurs in approximately 1 out of every 8,000 children in the United States.  It is often caused by incorrect development of the eye’s drainage system before birth, which leads to increased intraocular pressure (IOP).  Symptoms include enlarged eyes and sensitivity to light. 

The good news is that medications and surgery can help children with glaucoma preserve their eyesight.

2. Glaucoma can manifest in a variety of ways. 

Glaucoma is sometimes referred to as the “Silent Thief of Sight.” 

This may certainly be true in instances of open-angle glaucoma, which accounts for about 90% of cases.  Open-angle glaucoma develops slowly, and symptoms are so gradual they may not be noticed until vision is lost. 

The onset of closed-angle glaucoma is sudden.  Symptoms include headache, eye pain, nausea, vomiting, and halos around lights.  A closed-angle attack is a medical emergency that requires immediate treatment.

3. There is no cure for Glaucoma. 

Despite recent advancements in medicine, there is not yet a cure for glaucoma, and vision loss cannot be restored. 

This is why it’s so important to get regular eye exams - prevention of vision loss is key! 

Fortunately, there is some exciting research happening, perhaps most notably at John Hopkins University, where researchers have discovered a method of turning human stem cells into retinal ganglion cells.  This could eventually lead to cell transplants that would help restore lost vision.

4. Glaucoma patients don't just smoke marijuana for treatment. 

It’s absolutely true that marijuana can lower intraocular pressure.  However, it only lasts about 3-4 hours, making it an ineffective method of managing glaucoma. 

Chances are, the person you know with glaucoma is taking prescription eye drops, has had surgeries to control their eye pressure, or both - not getting high.  It can become a sore subject after being asked so many times.

5. You are your own best advocate. 

This is actually something my mother frequently said when I was younger, and it has stuck with me!

 Don’t be afraid to ask your doctor questions.  Feeling nervous is completely understandable, but you can take steps to ensure you’re getting the best care possible. 

Consider writing down any questions or concerns you have beforehand. 
You might also bring a trusted friend or family member with you to your appointments for support. 

A diagnosis of glaucoma can be scary, but it’s not the end of the world.  There is a wealth of information, resources, and support out there - especially online. 

6. Not everyone with glaucoma will go blind. 

Fortunately, blindness from glaucoma is very rare; only about 5% of people in the United States will become blind from the disease. 

Doctors now know that glaucoma has a tendency to affect one eye more than the other.  Statistics show that around 15% of people will lose the ability to read in one eye, and lose some depth perception. 

However, seeing a glaucoma specialist regularly, following prescribed treatment, and trying your best to maintain your overall health will all help to preserve your vision. 

Glaucoma is not curable, but it is treatable!

Happy Glaucoma Awareness Month!

Today's guest poster is Beata Skonecki, LMSW, the USA Coordinator at Glaucoma Eyes International (NGO). If you would like to connect with her, you can follow her on Twitter @beatalmsw.  

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