Glaucoma: An Eye Condition with Worldwide Impact 

Representation of Tunnel Vision Caused by Glaucoma compliments of NEI Image library

VisionAware has just updated our Glaucoma Information. Why? Because people who are living with this eye condition need creditable information and resources. And… 

Glaucoma Affects Millions of People 

According to the National Eye Institute, from 2010 to 2050, the number of people in the U.S. with glaucoma is expected to increase by more than double, from 2.7 million to 6.3 million. 

This is a worldwide phenomenon. In early March, the Alliance for Eye and Vision Research (AEVR), celebrated World Glaucoma Week by conducting its first virtual Research Saving Sight, Restoring Vision Congressional Briefing of 2022. During the briefing, Tom Brunner, President and CEO of the Glaucoma Research Foundation, said there are an estimated 60 million cases worldwide and an estimated 111 million people globally expected to have glaucoma by 2040.    

What is Glaucoma? 

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that can lead to blindness by damaging the optic nerve. As noted on the VisionAware Glaucoma: An Overview page, “Glaucoma can be treated, but it is not curable. The damage that has happened to the optic nerve from glaucoma is irreversible. However, lowering the pressure in the eye can help prevent further damage to the optic nerve and further peripheral vision loss.”  Further, as the disease progresses and the optic nerve damage continues, the field of vision constricts until complete vision is lost. Glaucoma is often called the “sneak thief of sight” because symptoms are very subtle and there are few or no or early warning signs. 

Because glaucoma’s early symptoms are easily missed, it is important that everyone receives a comprehensive eye exam. Early detection and appropriate and ongoing treatment are critical for managing this eye condition. For those who have experienced vision loss due to glaucoma, specialized low vision and vision rehabilitation services can help them live productive and satisfying lives. 

Read how our guest blogger Phil Shanholtzer is coping with his glaucoma and discovering supports that can help him. 

Life goes on with Glaucoma 

By Phil Shanholtzer 

Phil and wife on tandem bike
Phil and Wife on Tandem Bike

My introduction to glaucoma came more than ten years ago when my optometrist gave me the puff test – that little puff of air in the eye that was the standard diagnostic tool at that time (also known as noncontact tonometry). I don’t know what the test tells the doctor, other than it’s a sign of high fluid pressure that damages the optic nerve. This is the central concern in glaucoma (Editor’s note: Noncontact Tonometry is a way to measure intraocular pressure; however, most doctors use the Goldmann applanation tonometry, which uses physical pressure instead of air to take the measurement and is considered the gold standard. The National Eye Institute states that a comprehensive dilated eye exam is the best way to detect glaucoma). 

My Treatment  

The optometrist referred me to an ophthalmologist, and I have been under his care ever since. Over the years I’ve had a lot more tests, a few surgeries, gallons of eye drops, and a lot of consultation. Also, a few years ago, I experienced the total loss of vision in my right eye due to a phenomenon called retinal occlusion. Since then, my medical team’s focus has been on preserving the vision in my left eye. So far, we’ve had pretty good success.  Over the years, in addition to my regular ophthalmologist, I’ve added regular consultations with a retina specialist. 

How I Cope 

I avoid driving now, and my balance and depth perception are off. Despite these challenges, I’m still active outdoors with hiking, biking and kayaking; but I always go with a friend now. I use a walking stick to help with balance, and the places I go are not quite so adventurous – I stick to flat trails and calm water. Still, I’m lucky to have friends and family who help me enjoy activities. 

Connecting with a Support Group 

I’ve also connected with a low-vision support group through the Prevention of Blindness Society. I sometimes feel like a poser in our biweekly conference calls, since most of my new friends in the group are farther along on their low-vision journey than I am; and some have lost their vision altogether. I think it’s good to know what my future might hold, and how other people are coping with changes to their vision: And they are coping. Technology and services, adjustment to life with low or no vision, and how folks get through their days are a few examples of topics covered in the biweekly conference calls. Support group members are upbeat, and there’s an undercurrent of humor and self-deprecation running through every call. They are a fun and interesting group and are eager to help.  

Certainly, I would have preferred to avoid the glaucoma experience, but it has taught me some lessons in patience and humility. I am more willing to ask for help, and I have realized that people are happy to help. As my journey continues, I can’t deny I will miss some things, but I’m hopeful about new developments in science and technology, and I know I’m supported by a great team of medical specialists, and caring people willing to help and share their own experiences.