My Glaucoma Journey
By Andrew Danas
I learned from an early age to be vigilant about glaucoma. Glaucoma runs in my mother’s family. Her mother and aunts had it. My mother developed it in her 40s. I was tested from an early age.
I was diagnosed as having glaucoma shortly after my 23rd birthday, in 1978. Although no one in my family had gone blind from glaucoma, I knew that I would have to be proactive in my treatment. Since becoming a glaucoma patient I have chosen doctors who have been actively involved in research about glaucoma. It has helped keep me informed about the variety of new medications and operations that have been introduced since the day I was first diagnosed as having glaucoma.
For two decades my glaucoma was monitored four times a year. With regular photos, pressure, and visual field tests my doctors confirmed that I was not losing my vision.
I knew, however, that I could not be complacent. Although various medications did help keep my eye pressures between 18 and 24, no medication would completely control them and, over time, a new combination of medicines was always needed.
Doctors would periodically suggest an operation to permanently lower my eye pressures. I did try laser surgery in one eye when it was first introduced in the U.S. While it was initially successful, after three or four months my eye pressure returned to its regular high level. Since I had a controlled pressure and no vision loss, I opted not to have any other form of surgery. In my opinion, the need to take a combination of several medicines, or even occasionally blurred vision (when on pilocarpine), was nothing more than a minor inconvenience.
The introduction of Xalatan greatly improved the management of my glaucoma. I was warned that it could change the color of my eyes, but I thought that would be a small price to pay to
maintain my vision. Luckily, my eyes did not change color and, for the first time in years, my eye pressures were stabilized in the high teens using only one eye drop. They remained that way for years.
Shortly after my fiftieth birthday my eye pressures started to increase, up to 35 in each eye. Changing to a new medication would lower the pressures for a few months, but they would then creep back up. While I had no initial signs of vision loss, I started to notice that the visual field tests were becoming a bit more difficult, especially in my left eye. Finally, the tests showed some small vision loss in my left eye.
As soon as the minor vision loss was confirmed my doctor and I agreed that it was time for an operation. He recommended using an ExPRESS Mini-Shunt, a fairly new treatment. The procedure, which was painless, was done on an outpatient basis in February 2011. The pressure in my left eye is now acceptable and the eye no longer requires medication. Since my right eye is responding to medication and shows no vision loss, the operation has not yet been duplicated in that eye.
My glaucoma requires me to be diligent in using my medications and seeing the doctor. It can be easy to be complacent about having glaucoma, because there are no immediately noticeable symptoms. But that is exactly why you have to be vigilant, because it is too late once you do notice the symptoms. Had I not known my family history and stayed on top of the required tests and medicines I could have easily lost my vision.
I have been treated for glaucoma for 34 years, with only a minor loss of vision. Over the years, I have seen a variety of new and improved approaches to the treatment of glaucoma. My 90 year old mother has been successfully treated for glaucoma for almost 50 years. I have another 35 years to go, but I plan on beating that record and hopefully even seeing a cure!
Andy Danas is an attorney living in the Washington, DC area. He is also a volunteer for The Polakoff Foundation.
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