Glaucoma: My Story

Glaucoma: My Story
January 08
00:00 2015

By Judie Holcomb-Pack

January is National Glaucoma Month, something that would not have even been on my radar seven months ago. I had not had any problems with my vision that I had noticed and no one in my family has had glaucoma. During my annual eye exam in June, my eye doctor, Dr. Grady Elliott at Bethesda Eye Center, said he had a concern about something he saw in my eye test. “Since I had examined Judie’s eyes in the past, I noticed the structure of the eye had changed,” said Dr. Elliott.” I followed up her eye exam with an optical coherence tomography test to measure the thickness of the nerve fiber layer, which indicated an abnormality.”

Dr. Elliott made an appointment for me with Dr. Moya at Duke Eye Center for November and I immediately forgot about it. Glaucoma was for old people and I was just retiring from my job and looking forward to a happy, healthy retirement. After all, I had not noticed any problems with my vision, so I couldn’t have glaucoma. “This is a common misconception,” said Dr. Elliott. “People believe that they should be able to tell if something was wrong, but the reality is that these changes in our eyes aren’t usually noticed.”

When the time for my appointment with Dr. Moya came, I was still unconcerned. After several vision tests, I was shocked when I was told I had glaucoma. All I knew about glaucoma was it caused blindness. I had a lot to learn about the disease and treatment options.

The Symptoms

Glaucoma is often called “the sneak thief of vision” because there are few or no symptoms. The first sign of glaucoma is often the loss of peripheral or side vision, which can go unnoticed until late in the disease. Dr. Elliott noted, “It is important to have an ongoing relationship with an eye specialist who can compare your vision tests year to year and notice any changes to the structure of the eye.” It is especially important if you are at a higher risk of glaucoma due to a family history of glaucoma, being over the age of 40, have poor vision, diabetes, or eye trauma. Also, African-Americans are at a higher risk of glaucoma, which tends to occur at an earlier age and with greater loss of vision.

What is Glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye’s optic nerve and gets worse over time. It’s often associated with a buildup of pressure inside the eye, usually when eye fluid isn’t circulating normally in the front part of the eye. Usually this fluid flows out of the eye through a mesh-like channel, but if this channel becomes blocked, fluid builds up, causing glaucoma. The direct cause of this blockage is unknown, but it can be inherited.

Less common causes of glaucoma include a blunt or chemical injury to the eye, severe eye infection, blockage of blood vessels in the eye, inflammatory conditions of the eye, and occasionally, eye surgery to correct another condition. Glaucoma usually occurs in both eyes, but it may involve each eye to a different extent.

I have glaucoma in both eyes, but one eye is more affected and damaged than the other. Therefore, I have three different eye drops to treat my glaucoma, one for both eyes, and two for just my left eye. Other possible treatments include laser surgery and microsurgery. I was fortunate in that within just a couple weeks using the eye drops, the pressure in my eyes decreased significantly.

Glaucoma is diagnosed with a vision test where your eye doctor examines your eyes through dilated pupils, focusing on the optic nerve, which has a particular appearance in glaucoma. A procedure to check for eye pressure may also be performed, as well as a visual field test, to determine if there is loss of side vision. Glaucoma tests are painless and take very little time and are often covered under your medical insurance.

What Can Be Done?

Although glaucoma cannot be prevented, if diagnosed and treated early, the disease can be controlled. Unfortunately, any loss of vision due to glaucoma is irreversible and cannot be restored. Early diagnosis and treatment to lower eye pressure can help prevent further visual loss. Today most people with glaucoma do not go blind if they follow their treatment plan and have regular eye exams.

“The key is early detection,” according to Dr. Elliott. “We have medications and laser procedures and multiple ways to control glaucoma. How quickly we find it will dictate how often we can preserve vision.”

Seeing a glaucoma specialist, beginning treatment, and doing research to learn more about glaucoma has taken away some of the fear I felt after my initial diagnosis. I feel confident that with ongoing treatment, my glaucoma will be controlled.

What better time than January, National Glaucoma Month, to schedule an eye exam with your eye specialist! For more information on glaucoma, visit


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