CATES: Don’t take your vision for granted, get an eye exam

Sight I think is one of those things I always took for granted. I wear glasses and contacts, but blindness was not something I really thought of as a possibility. That was until my husband had an accident in the Spring of 2019. In that accident, he ruptured the globe of one of his eyes. Despite the best efforts of wonderful surgeons and caregivers, he is now completely blind in that eye. He was already essentially blind in his other eye because of another accident when he was in his 20s. We have had to make many, many changes to our lives since the accident in 2019 because of his lack of vision. It certainly makes you realize what a gift sight is when you live with someone whose sight is no longer a given, and I no longer take it for granted.

Even with all the changes we have made, I am constantly amazed by how well my husband has adapted to this new situation. Part of the reason I think he has done so well is because one of his closest friends has been blind since he was a teen. This friend went to college, teaches at a high school just like my husband, is married, has a daughter, and has an incredibly full life. His blindness has been a hurdle to overcome, but he has never let it be a barrier. His success helped my husband be successful too. That friend lost his vision because of glaucoma. Glaucoma is rare in young people, but it does happen. When I think of glaucoma, I always think of this friend, because the other thing about glaucoma is it is very manageable if it is caught early, but with him, it wasn’t detected until it was too late. He is the example of why glaucoma awareness is so important.

According to the Glaucoma Research Foundation, more than 3 million people in the US, and 60 million people world-wide have glaucoma. The National Eye institute is projecting that by 2030, that number will be more than 4 million people in the US alone. The World Health Organization states there are 120,000 people in the US and 4.5 million people world-wide that are completely blind due to glaucoma. Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness.

One of the reasons glaucoma is so problematic is that it is completely asymptomatic. It’s a little mind boggling to think about, but people who have glaucoma can lose up to 40% of their vision and not even notice because it happens so gradually. Glaucoma is a broad term for a group of eye diseases that cause damage to the optic nerve. The two main kinds of glaucoma are primary open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. These two conditions raise the pressure inside the eye (known in medical terms as the intraocular pressure). That high pressure damages the nerve. Because high intraocular pressure is asymptomatic and people don’t notice the vision loss until there has been a huge amount of damage done, the best method for finding glaucoma early is an annual eye exam. That way, the high pressures are detected before there is significant vision loss, and sight saving treatments can begin immediately. Glaucoma doesn’t have a cure, but treatment can essentially stop progression of the disease.

Glaucoma is genetically linked to people of Latino and African American heritage. It’s as much as 8 times more common in those populations than in other ethnicities. People of Asian descent are at higher risk than Caucasian people as well. That genetic link also means if you are diagnosed with glaucoma, its important that you let your family members, especially siblings know so they are vigilant in getting their eyes checked. Glaucoma is most common in middle-aged and elderly adults, but it can happen to people of all ages. Those at highest risk for glaucoma are people of African, Asian, and Hispanic descent, people over 60, diabetics, people who are severely nearsighted, and anyone with a family member who has glaucoma.

Please add to your list of New Year’s resolutions to get an eye exam, especially if it’s been more than a year since your last exam and you are in one of those high-risk groups. I can tell you from experience, sight is not something you ever want to take for granted.