Myths & Misconceptions about Glaucoma

The one chronic illness diagnosis I seem to talk about the least is glaucoma, yet this is the first one I was diagnosed with. I remember getting the diagnosis and being quite upset. Why? Because I was only 29 at the time. Both of my parents have glaucoma, and it runs on both sides of my family. My siblings and I have literally been tested for it yearly with our annual eye checkups since we were children (I am also the only one of my siblings that currently has glaucoma). Usually when I do mention that I have glaucoma a number of misconceptions come up for people. So, with some research, I thought maybe I could address those now.

But first, what is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a degenerative eye disease that causes damage to the optic nerve, which is required for good vision. Usually this is due to high eye pressure.

Now on to 5 myths & misconceptions about gluacoma!

  1. Glaucoma is only found in old people – so people are usually quite surprised when I tell them that I have glaucoma, and how young I was when I was diagnosed. The truth is that even babies can get glaucoma, and it can occur at any age (thus why I was tested since I was young). It does commonly run in families (often hereditary, but not always), and nearsightedness increases the risk of glaucoma (my current ophthalmologist told me I’m “extremely nearsighted” – this is true lol).
  2. If you have perfect vision, you can’t get glaucoma – not relevant to me, since I’ve wrn glasses since I was 8, and as I mentioned I am extremely nearsighted. However, upon doing some research for this post, I have learned that it doesn’t matter how your vision is. Glaucoma is known as the “silent thief” because there are no symptoms for early glaucoma. Due to that, it’s important for everyone to at least get a regular eye test (yearly) and definitely talk to your eye doctor about glaucoma.
  3. You will definitely have high eye pressure – I actually haven’t had high eye pressure since I was 29 (after a few treatments it’s been relatively stable). It’s still maybe slightly higher than most people’s but it’s very manageable. Apparently there are 2 types of glaucoma, when you have normal-tension glaucoma, you don’t have elevated eye pressure at all (perhaps another reason it’s called the “silent thief” as one of the main tests for glaucoma is to check eye pressure).
  4. Glaucoma always causes eye pain – I have actually never had eye pain from my glaucoma. To my knowledge neither have my parents (whose glaucoma is much more advanced than mine) – though I could be wrong so don’t quote me. While glaucoma can cause eye pain, symptoms do often vary from person to person so it’s not a guarantee.
  5. You will become blind – So my paternal grandmother did actually become blind from glaucoma (by the time she was in her late 80s – though she had poor eyesight for longer). Treatments, however, are much much better now. And according to ophthalmology associations, it doesn’t lead to vision loss for most people any more, especially those with “moderate” glaucoma (which I have a feeling I fall into this camp). Proper eye care (regular doctor visits) and treatment is important in preventing the disease from becoming worse.

So while glaucoma is definitely not fun and can have some not-so-great consequences, for most people – when they take care of their eyes – it’s not the worst diagnosis. For the most part I actually forget I have it. I hope this helps to clear up some myths and also, I hope this normalizes glaucoma for any other “young” glaucoma warriors out there! Keep making the most of it everyone!

Eye Health

I truly hope most you haven’t and don’t ever experience problems with your eye health, because those just additional chronic illnesses that no one needs (not that anyone needs ANY chronic illness in the first place, but you know what I mean!). Eye health problems usually become more frequent as we age, so typically you see people fifty and older with them. I have always laughed because whenever I have seen my ophthalmologist, I’m always the youngest person in the waiting room (I’m sure my younger brother feels the same way too). Now when I talk about eye health, I’m not necessarily meaning poor eyesight and thus needing to wear glasses. That’s quite common. What I mean is having some kind of eye disease or illness – cataracts, glaucoma, diabetic retinopathy, etc.

IMG_7994 2My glasses prescription is also pretty strong but I typically wear contacts so you’d never know.

To give you some context, both of my parents have glaucoma. My paternal grandmother also had glaucoma and was legally blind for several years before she died. My father has had surgery on his eyes, and both my parents have had laser treatments and eye drops. They were also both diagnosed older. However, because glaucoma is hereditary, my brother and I have always seen an ophthalmologist so that we can be tested yearly “just in case.” For me, just in case turned out to be an actual thing shortly after my 29th birthday. My eye pressure in both eyes was too high, and I subsequently had laser treatment to bring down the pressure. I ended up having the treatment twice that summer and then it became suitable.

IMG_7995 2How I learned the basics of glaucoma back in the day – informational posters at the ophthalmologist’s office.

Now, in the 6 years since, I have not had high eye pressure again, though it continues to be monitored yearly. Cannabis has shown to have mixed results in studies using it for glaucoma but using it for chronic pain is one of the lifestyle changes I have made in the past four years. Is this helping keep my eye pressure down? I don’t know but it’s interesting to consider. Like all other aspects of my health, keeping on top of it is something I do, which is as simple as making sure I see my ophthalmologist as frequently as she suggests. Understanding anything you are predisposed to is also an essential part of taking care of your health, so getting tested regularly for those things is something I highly recommend!

IMG_7996 2Getting tested regularly for any health issues is an essential part of being a chronic illness warrior!