Hiking affords an opportunity to see and explore what can’t be seen or explored from your car. But what if your ability to see is suddenly threatened – or vanishes altogether? And you never saw it coming?
Half of the over 3 million Americans with this eye disease don’t even know they have it. That’s because its destructive impact can happen slowly and without early symptoms. Unfortunately, the damage is irreparable.
I have it. I didn’t even know it.
My last eye exam was a few months back. It was routine. No eye issues. No vision problems. In fact, I aced all the vision tests, including a perfect score on the peripheral vision test.
But my optometrist identified me as a glaucoma “suspect.”
“You have really narrow angles” he said. “I don’t like the looks of this. I’m going to refer you to a specialist for a second opinion.”
I was like, “Angles? Narrow? Huh? What?”
So I scheduled an appointment with an ophthalmologist. Again, I walked into the office feeling fine. No vision problems at all.
A gonioscopy and an eye ultrasound – yes, there is such a thing – confirmed my optometrist’s suspicions.
Angles and Iridotomies
Post ultrasound, the ophthalmologist is talking “narrow angle glaucoma” and “anatomically narrow angles” in both eyes. It’s a fairly rare condition. I was born with it, apparently. Never heard of it until last week. But it means I’m at “high risk” for an “acute angle closure,” also known as a “closed angle attack.”
Sudden and Serious
This is a very serious condition in which natural fluids inside the eye can’t drain due to the narrow angles. It’s like damming up a river. When this happens, pressure within the eye increases suddenly and dramatically, causing irreversible damage to the optic nerve and partial or total blindness.
According to the opthamologist, my “angles” are so narrow, they’re almost completely closed. In both eyes. (Note: Narrow angles are anatomical. They’re not caused or exacerbated by external factors like “reading too much.” In case you’re wondering.)
The usual treatment is a “laser iridotomy.” This in-office procedure uses a precisely focused beam of laser light to burn a tiny hole in the iris. The hole acts as an alternate channel through which fluid inside the eye can flow if the usual pathway becomes blocked or closed, reducing the risk of a sudden, dangerous build up of pressure in the eye.
Talk about getting the proverbial rug pulled out from under you. I had no idea. None. I mean, my dad had glaucoma. I always considered it a disease of the elderly, like 80+. Or more.
Well, guess what? I’m 59 and holding. So there ya go.
How Glaucoma Works*
Glaucoma is a condition that causes damage to your eye‘s optic nerve. It gets worse over time. As noted above, it’s often linked to a buildup of pressure inside your eye. As this flow is blocked, pressure builds inside the eyes and presses on the tiny vessels of the optic nerve. Left untreated, the sensitive optic nerve becomes permanently damaged, resulting in partial or total vision loss.
Additionally, Glaucoma tends to be inherited and may not show up until later in life. (Hi, Dad.)
Regular Eye Exams
That’s why regular visits to your eye doctor are so important. Tests can detect early glaucoma and treatment can help prevent or slow the loss of vision.
When was the last time you had your eyes checked? Don’t assume that just because you have no vision problems or you’re under 60, your eyes are good. Get. Them. Checked.
Don’t Get Robbed
If it’s been two years or more since your last eye exam, it’s too long. Don’t get robbed. Please schedule an appointment today. The eyesight you save could be your own.
Oh, and Silent Thief? I’ve got your number, pal. And I’m gonna kick your butt.
* Source: Pacific Cataract and Laser Institute
Disclaimer: Nothing in this post should be construed as medical advice or a diagnosis. Please consult your health care professional.
Photo Credit: “Human eye cross-sectional view grayscale” by NIH National Eye Institute – . Licensed under Public Domain via Wikimedia Commons
Credit: Iridotomy. Glaucoma Research Foundation.