Living with glaucoma — since age 35

Sometimes I forget I have glaucoma, even though it’s a chronic eye disease that can cause blindness.

I don’t dwell on it daily because glaucoma is painless, and mine is currently “under control.” That said, I’m quite aware of glaucoma’s stealthy potential. It is referred to as a silent thief of sight because there are no symptoms in its early stages.

Regular eye exams can help your ophthalmologist diagnose this disease before you start to lose vision because, once lost, you can’t regain it. There is no cure, only treatment options: medication, laser treatment or surgery.

So I am a model patient: I do what my doctor suggests to keep this disease at bay.

I can tell you all about glaucoma. I was diagnosed with primary open-angle glaucoma, the most common type, 23 years ago in 1994, at age 35.

When my optometrist referred me to Dr. Edward Hicks at the Eye Care Center in Canandaigua, my intraocular pressures (IOP), the fluid pressure in my eyes, were very high: 28 on the right and 29 on the left. “Normal” eye pressure is subjective, a medical hot button. One doctor calls the 10 to 20 range normal. Another says 2 to 24. Both are reluctant to characterize what normal IOP is in relation to glaucoma.

You can have low pressures and have glaucoma (low-tension glaucoma) or high pressures and not have it (ocular hypertension). Eye pressure is just one identifier of the disease.

Naturally, I was a little frightened by my diagnosis because I really wasn’t sure what it was. I remember being preoccupied more by why I would have glaucoma at such a relatively young age. One of my perceptions was that it was an “old person’s disease.”

Risk factors for glaucoma actually do include age. It’s more prevalent in people over 40 and a leading cause of blindness for people over 60, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

Other factors include diabetes, family history and being of African-American or Hispanic descent. None of those applied to me.

So risk factors can increase your chances of contracting the disease, but glaucoma is an equal opportunity malady. Anyone can have it. Some babies are even born with it (congenital glaucoma). You can injure your eye and develop it. The Glaucoma Research Foundation reports that glaucoma affects more than 3 million people in the United States. That’s 6 million eyes!

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