Receiving a glaucoma diagnosis can be frightening. References to what we now know as glaucoma can be found in the writings of the ancient Greek physician, Hippocrates. Many years ago, a glaucoma diagnosis would most likely lead to blindness. Today, armed with more knowledge and treatment options, a glaucoma diagnosis is no longer a precursor to blindness in most cases.
While people living with glaucoma may have to make adjustments, you don’t have to limit your life because of glaucoma. Most people can live an active and fulfilling life. However, living with glaucoma may require increased visits to your eye care team and adherence to medications.
Glaucoma: The Silent Thief of Sight
Glaucoma is often asymptomatic and, as a result, can go undiagnosed in its early stages. Because it can be such a slowly progressing condition, half of the estimated three million Americans living with glaucoma don’t even know they have it. There are several reasons glaucoma can go undetected, including:
- Most types of glaucoma are painless, with no feelings of discomfort.
- Changes to vision due to glaucoma are usually gradual, making it difficult to notice changes.
- Although there are rarely noticeable visual symptoms in the early stages of glaucoma, vision loss begins at the nasal peripheral areas of vision.
- It’s not uncommon for glaucoma to affect one eye more severely, and we compensate for the loss.
- Because glaucoma is often associated with aging (although it can affect anyone at any age), subtle vision changes can be accepted as part of the aging process.
Making sure glaucoma doesn’t rob you of your sight requires that you are properly examined and assessed by a qualified eye doctor. A comprehensive dilated eye exam can help you catch glaucoma early so you can start treatment.
Adjusting to Life with Glaucoma
If you’re one of the more than 60 million people worldwide diagnosed with glaucoma or their loved ones, there are steps you can take to slow or prevent its progression.
Strict Adherence to Medication
If you’re living with glaucoma, the most important thing you need to do is adhere to your prescribed medication. If you have problems with your medication, tell your doctor so they can be adjusted or replaced with other medications. In addition, do whatever you can to maintain a schedule to take your medication on time — set an alarm or alert on your phone, watch, tablet, or computer for reminders throughout the day.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Focusing on a healthy lifestyle can improve the health of the eye and the rest of your body. Exercise is a key to good health, but it’s important to follow evidence-based physical fitness guidelines if you have glaucoma, as some exercises can adversely affect your condition. In addition, a healthy diet combined with avoiding unhealthy activities, such as smoking tobacco, can positively affect your eye health.
Educate Yourself About Glaucoma
The better informed you are of your condition, the easier it will be to manage. If you come across something you don’t understand, write it down and ask your eye care team. Healthcare providers welcome your questions and want to know about any concerns you may have. For example, if a medication is causing unwanted side effects, let your healthcare provider know. There may be many alternatives.
Reach Out for Support
It can be frightening to receive a glaucoma diagnosis. But, it’s essential to remember that you are not alone. You’re one of the millions of people dealing with glaucoma. Talk about your condition with family and friends. In-person and online support groups offer opportunities to talk with people with lived experience and can positively impact your emotional health.
Embrace Your Eye Care Team
Keep your appointments with your eye care team. Regular checkups keep them up to date on your condition. In addition, any information you share provides valuable information to your eye care team to help them assess the effectiveness of your treatment plan and determine if you need additional help, such as working with a low vision specialist.
Depending on your situation, your doctor may refer you to a vision rehabilitation center, eye clinic, or other organizations. A low-vision therapist can help you adapt and make personalized recommendations to help you adjust and function better.
Practical Tips to Living with Glaucoma
While medication diligence, healthy lifestyles, and education are crucial for those living with glaucoma, various practical tips can help you adjust. Don’t hesitate to ask for help. In addition, loved ones can help you adapt to your surroundings to ensure that you’re safe.
- Area rugs can sometimes pose a hazard for people with low vision. Keep home pathways and work areas free of extra floor coverings.
- People living with glaucoma often experience difficulty adjusting to darkness or darkened rooms. Install additional lighting to increase illumination in dark closets or hallways. When outdoors at night, carry a strong flashlight.
- Loss of peripheral vision can make it challenging to see steps and stairways. Marking treads and handrails with contrasting colored paint or tape can help improve navigation and reduce the risk of falling.
- Get into the habit of consistently closing kitchen and bathroom cabinets, especially those above countertops. It can also help to make sure doors are either all the way open or shut. These safety techniques can significantly reduce the risk of head injury.
- Before you reach down to pick up a dropped object, place your hand, palm out, about 12 inches in front of your face to make sure you don’t hit the edges of tables or countertops with your forehead.
Several options, including Social Security income, disability, and other resources, may be available. For example, if you’re having difficulty paying for eye care services or medical treatment, you may qualify for one or more of these federal programs.
- Medicare: This federal health insurance program is for people age 65 or older who receive Social Security retirement benefits. Prescription drug coverage is also available. To receive Medicare assistance, you must meet specific eligibility requirements. Go online to learn more about Medicare, if you qualify, and how to apply, or call 1-800-MEDICARE (633-4227).
- Medicaid: Individuals and families with low incomes and resources may qualify for Medicaid administered by state agencies. Eligibility and benefits vary by state. People can apply through their state’s Department of Human Services or Medicaid Assistance Program. Go online to learn more about Medicaid, if you qualify, and how to apply, or call 1-877-267-2323.
- Social Security: This federal program provides retirement income, disability payments, and other payments to people who contributed to the plan when employed and their dependents. In addition, people who are legally blind or have vision problems that prevent employment can also receive financial assistance through Social Security. Go online to learn more about Social Security benefits and how to apply, or call 1-800-772-1213
- U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs (VA): Veterans who are eligible for healthcare coverage also have access to eye care services through the VA. To receive VA assistance, veterans must meet specific eligibility requirements. Go online to learn more about the program, if you qualify, and how to apply, or call 1-877-222- 8387 (VETS).
Everyone Can Help
At this time, there is no cure for glaucoma. However, with early detection and regular treatment from an eye doctor, glaucoma can usually be successfully managed to allow people living with glaucoma to live a normal, active life.
New advancements in glaucoma care continue to bring us closer to finding a cure. You can help make a cure possible. Your donation of cash or stock, a fundraising event, or even a vehicle or boat, will give hope to those living with glaucoma and accelerate our search for a cure. Every donation and even simply sharing this message with friends, family, and associates helps.
This article was reviewed for medical accuracy Bradley Schuster, MD.
Posted on December 6, 2021
Bradley L. Schuster, MD
Bradley L. Schuster, MD, is a glaucoma specialist in Denver, Colorado, and Assistant Clinical Professor at the University of Colorado, Health Sciences Center.