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Discovering My 'Bad Eyesight' Was Really Glaucoma

This is World Glaucoma Week, a week designed to create much needed awareness regarding glaucoma, the leading cause of irreversible blindness around the world.

There are countless published educational, research, and medical articles that tell us the facts about glaucoma, but I have noticed there is very little information available when it comes to personal experience.  I’d like to see this change. I’d like to see people sharing how glaucoma affects them personally in the daily course of their lives. Sharing our experiences with visual disability is important because it helps others to relate to it on a more personal level. Knowing that others out there experience similar challenges, reading the various ways life changes when we experience significant vision loss and sharing personal stories brings a sense of community. A sense of community creates strength to face disability, which is what The Mighty is all about.

I’d like to share a little bit of my experience with glaucoma with you.

I’ve always had problems with my vision, but when I was 26 years old it began to be more than just a case of “bad eyesight” and noticeably something more. I went for a routine eye checkup and was referred to a specialist in eye diseases.  The ophthalmologist who examined my eyes puzzled over their condition, but at that time couldn’t pinpoint what the problem was.  He said unfortunately there was a strong possibility that some other condition in my body was causing my eye problems, and he referred me to the hospital where I had an MRI, spinal tap and other tests to determine if I had multiple sclerosis or sarcoidosis. I didn’t and eventually after more fruitless examinations, life went back to normal and I mostly didn’t think about my vision problems because my life wasn’t affected by them in any noticeable way.

When I was 32, I noticed that after a long day in the sun, my left eye was throbbing. I thought I just had a headache, but the throbbing turned into pain over the next few days. I Googled it and found a lot of conflicting information. I thought maybe I was experiencing a migraine or cluster headache and I was hesitant to go to the doctor for that, so I decided to wait it out.  However after a few more days the pain in my eye was excruciating, and what had began as a dull, uncomfortable throbbing sensation had become genuinely unbearable. My husband drove me to my doctor, who measured the pressure in my eye and found it was at 55 mm Hg, which is extremely high. Regular eye pressure is anywhere from 12 to 22 mm Hg, but I didn’t know that then!

My doctor sent me to the emergency unit at a department of the hospital that specialized in eye diseases. When I arrived, my case was treated as an emergency and the doctors there told me if I had waited even a day or two more to come in, I would have gone irreversibly blind in my left eye. I had an acute attack and was dealing with closed angle glaucoma.  I read later that many times an acute attack is mistaken even by doctors as a migraine headache, so I am thankful the doctors I saw took it seriously. I was able to quickly receive help that saved what was left of the vision in my left eye, which wasn’t much, but even some vision is better than none!

I was given pills to reduce the IOP, eye drops, and immediate laser iridotomy, surgery but nothing reduced the eye pressure.  They also found I had a large cataract in my left eye, so after a couple of days I had a physical surgery to remove it. I was monitored over the next few months, took eye drops but my eye pressure remained high.  The next step was to have a longer surgery to implant the Ahmed Valve in my eye, which reduces the eye’s intraocular pressure.

That was in December 2014 and since then, I have gone for regular eye pressure checks and field vision tests.  I have consistently taken whatever eye drops I’m prescribed and I have never had another acute attack.  My eye pressure is still irregular at times and I’m losing vision in both eyes.

My left eye has almost no vision at all. I always experience a moment of panic when the doctor tests my left eye for vision and asks if I can see what letter is on the screen and I have to tell him, wishing I were exaggerating, that I can’t even see the screen.  The sight in my right eye is better than this but not good.

I am forever thankful to live in this day and age where medical advances are being made all the time. I am always hopeful that a cure for glaucoma may be found! I am also thankful that with my glasses I can see well enough to function in the world. Had I been born in a time without treatment, there’s no doubt I would be blind by now. As it is, I am not blind, and with glasses, eye drops and regular check ups, I can see and experience this beautiful world. Hopefully with continued treatment, I can maintain my sight all my life.

Getty image by Shidlovsky.