As I’ve mentioned, I was diagnosed with glaucoma back on October 30 of this year. I get a lot of questions about it, so I want to try to answer some of them here. Glaucoma.org is a fine place to dig a little deeper if you’re curious about it.
Glaucoma is a disease of the eye that usually involves an increase of the intraocular pressure. This pressure builds up over time and can damage the optic nerve. It happens slowly enough—and creeps in from the edges of your field of vision—that most people don’t notice it until it’s too late. By that time, you’ve already lost a good chunk of your vision. This is why the disease is called “the silent thief.”
I have what’s called open-angle glaucoma, which is the most common type. In my case, I lost about 40% of the vision in my right eye. Fortunately, this started in the upper left quadrant of that eye, which means the loss overlaps with the vision from my left eye, which is still unaffected. While that made it harder for me to notice it at first, it’s not as troublesome now as it would be if I’d lost the vision in some other part of my eye.
To test me for this, they had me sit with my face in a machine, hold still, and look at a single spot while the machine flashed random lights in a grid around that spot. I had to click a button when I saw the light. This way, they can map out what you can and can’t see. My right eye looks like this:
The dark spots are the places where I can’t see in that eye. The darker they are, the worse it is.
My son Marty asked me what the color of blindness is. He thought it would be black, but it’s nothing like that really. I don’t see black spots in those places. The nerve has been damaged and can’t see anything there at all. There’s no there there.
In terms of a color that doesn’t exist, it looks like the spots you see right after you look into the sun. But nothing brings it back, no matter how much you blink.
There’s no cure for glaucoma, and there’s no way to regain the lost vision. It’s treatable though, and the treatment usually arrests the disease in its tracks. In my case, I have to use medicated eyedrops three times a day. These don’t come cheap, but fortunately I have decent health insurance though my wife’s job as a school social worker.
With luck, there should be no further loss of vision. There’s still a chance of it, though, as the increase of pressure in the eye isn’t the only aspect of glaucoma, and that’s primarily what the eyedrops treat.
While it’s hard to tell what causes glaucoma, the doctors suspect mine is the result of decades of treating asthma with steroids. It seems that
both of my grandfathers my dad’s father suffered from it too, which didn’t help matters. When it comes down to the choice between breathing and seeing, though, I have to go with continuing to breathe. I’m partial that way.
Fortunately, the treatment seems to be working well for me. My optometrist consistently tested me for this every year—it’s that puff of air they blow into your eye—and it had been climbing, but it spiked up to 32mm this summer for some reason. (Above 22 or so is when you should start watching carefully.) With the eyedrops, the pressure in my left eye has dropped down to 11, and my right eye is holding steady without any treatment at all.
So, if you see me ducking out of a convention hall in the middle of the day—or walking around with one eye closed for a bit—now you’ll know why. And it might influence my choice of Halloween costumes in the future, although I’d have a hard time deciding between going as a pirate or Nick Fury.
Sure, it’s a hassle to have to deal with it, but the threat of losing more of my sight helps remind me every time I need to use the drops. I asked my doctor when I could stop being paranoid about my eyesight. He said, “From here on out, you’ll always be paranoid about your eyesight.”