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As Anthony Bouchér well remembers, he went in to get new eyeglasses and came out without eyesight.
The saleswoman told him he would have to submit to an eye exam because it was “standard procedure”. He agreed. “I was 46 years old and it was certainly possible my prescription had changed a smidgen in the last two years.”
But instead, he was told he needed to go to Northern Colorado Eye Care immediately. The technician said. “DO NOT drive yourself there. Have someone come and get you. I’m going to call right now and tell them you’re coming.” He managed to blurt out something along the lines of “What? Why?”
“The doctor explained that I had a condition called end-stage pigmentary dispersion glaucoma. To put that in layman’s terms, the pigment (colored part) of my eyes was flaking off and clogging the eye’s drainage canals. This causes the eye pressure to rise, which (irreparably) damages the optic nerve and causes vision loss.
“My pressure levels were 58 and 62, left to right! I needed immediate trabeculectomies and shunt placement. I was also declared 'legally blind', a term I find perplexing to this day since I have yet to meet an 'illegally blind' individual.
“I know what you’re thinking: ‘How could he be going blind and not know it?’ I had the same question myself while I swam through the river of denial. The answer is simple and straightforward: Glaucoma is called ‘the silent thief of sight.’ It’s not painful, and it is very, very gradual except in rare cases. As you lose your peripheral vision you turn your head. A lot. You just don’t realize you’re doing it.
“A decade later, I could write a book about the many challenges I’ve faced since I was diagnosed. There were the days of waking up with my eyes glued shut from dried blood, making me think I had gone completely blind. There were the painful surgeries that have left my eyes unrecognizable when I look in the mirror. There is the anger and depression that have driven me perilously close to destroying almost two decades of sobriety and caused me to lash out at my family and closest friends, who are guilty of nothing except loving me the most when I deserved it the least. There’s the frustration of not looking ‘disabled’ but having my body betray me daily as I routinely stumble over (or into) something.
“Even though glaucoma cannot really be prevented, I’ve been known to chastise my family and friends when they don’t go see their eye doctors regularly, even if they don’t wear glasses. Had I gone a year sooner, I might have had an extra five years of eyesight. I often think about what I will miss; would an extra five years let me see another grandchild with my own eyes? Would I see if my two still-single daughters look as breathtaking as their sister did walking down the aisle on their wedding days? They will, of course.
“I also feel guilty every time I need to ask my family for a ride because there is no public transportation in the rural area where I live. I feel even guiltier about the opportunities my family has given up and the many hours we’ve all worked at multiple jobs so we could pay the crippling medical debt of all those surgeries. The tens if not hundreds of thousands of dollars that could have gone toward my grandchildren’s education.
“Today, less than 10 percent of my vision remains, and even the doctor isn’t sure when I will be entirely blind. At best I have five to six years, but it could be tomorrow. The light fades faster every year, and with it my freedom ― freedom to work, to drive, to pick out a T-shirt, the things most people take for granted.
“I’ve come to terms with my fate, to some degree, and I hope our retirement savings will get us through our remaining years. But I worry about the many Americans who don’t seek out medical care because they cannot afford it, or because they have not been properly educated about the vital importance of preventive care.
“But I try to set aside such negativity. I look at what I’ve gained. Motivation. Determination. And, given the confluence of my medical issues and the current political climate, I have developed a passion that demands that I advocate for the disabled community. Politicians seem to forget that we vote.
“Best of all, this past June, I received an envelope in the mail. Even though little of my sight now remains, I could see enough to recognize the college diploma I finally earned at age 56 Summa Cum Laude -- from Southern New Hampshire University with a BS in Business Studies, Human Resources Management (English minor). I am currently enrolled in the Master’s Degree program at the University of Colorado Boulder in Organizational Leadership, Employee Relations and Labor Law specialty track. I’ve also been asked to join the board of a nonprofit that helps disabled students apply to college and find scholarship opportunities.
“I may not see the future clearly, but I know I still have one, and I want to be here as long as I can to experience it.”
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JANUARY IS GLAUCOMA AWARENESS MONTH
Start off the New Year by scheduling an appointment for a comprehensive eye exam. It could save your sight.
The most common type of glaucoma is open-angle glaucoma, which has no symptoms in its early stages. People with open-angle glaucoma experience gradual increases in their intraocular pressure that do not immediately affect their vision.
If detected early, before noticeable vision loss occurs, and treated immediately, glaucoma can usually be controlled and severe vision loss can often be prevented. Vision that is lost from glaucoma cannot be restored.
Anyone can get glaucoma, but some are at higher risk including, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology, people who:
• have family members with
• are of African, Hispanic, or Asian
• have high eye pressure
• are farsighted or nearsighted
• have had an eye injury
• use long-term steroid
• have corneas that are thin in the
• have thinning of the optic nerve
• have diabetes, migraines, high
blood pressure, poor blood
circulation or other health
problems affecting the whole
People with more than one of these risk factors have an even higher risk of glaucoma.
PIGMENT DISPERSION SYNDROME AND PIGMENTARY GLAUCOMA
Although rare, pigment dispersion syndrome and pigmentary glaucoma tend to occur at a younger age than primary open-angle glaucoma. Pigmentary glaucoma is a type of inherited open-angle glaucoma which develops more frequently in men than women. White people are more susceptible than other races and it most often begins in individuals in their 20s and 30s. This is the only type of glaucoma that may actually dissipate as we age. Nearsighted patients are more typically afflicted and the anatomy of the eye appears to play a key role. Myopic (nearsighted) eyes have a concave-shaped iris which creates an unusually wide angle. This causes the pigment layer of the iris to rub on the lens, causing the iris pigment to shed into the aqueous humor and onto neighboring structures, such as the trabecular meshwork. When pigment is released into the anterior chamber, the condition is called pigment dispersion syndrome. Most patients with pigment dispersion will not develop pigmentary glaucoma. However, the pigment may plug the pores of the trabecular meshwork, causing it to clog, and thereby increasing the IOP. If the IOP is high and the optic nerve is damaged, then pigmentary glaucoma is diagnosed, as was the case for Tony Bouchér who was diagnosed 10 years ago.
THE DAMAGING EFFECTS OF BLUE LIGHT
Much has been written about the health effects of blue light, some of them controversial. While some frequencies of blue light are beneficial, others can be harmful to your eyes with continuous exposure over time. Harmful blue light comes from the sun (the largest source), from digital device screens and artificial lighting.
For example, where screens are concerned, there is evidence that blue light can interfere with humans' circadian rhythms, making it harder to fall asleep. For some people it can be a good idea to limit screen time before bed. Or to filter out blue light from screens before bedtime.
Spending too much time looking at a screen can keep people from blinking as often as they should and from focusing on things at different locations. This can make eyes feel dry, gritty, tired or strained. A simple solution is to look at least 20 feet away, for 20 seconds, every 20 minutes. Ophthalmologists call this the ‘20-20-20’ rule.
Following are some ways to regulate blue light exposure.
If you have questions or concerns about your eye health, you should talk to your ophthalmologist. Your doctor can make recommendations that are right for you and your lifestyle.
- Apple’s “Night Shift” is a built-in IOS app that can be scheduled to shift to warmer, redder wavelength light in the evening and back to bright, more highly blue-wavelength light in the morning. One should consider leaving it on 24/7.
- “Flux” is a free software that adjusts the light of your computer to match the cycle of natural sunlight where you live and reduces brightness and blue light in the evening.
- Carotenoid supplements.
- Targeted, specialty Led light bulbs.
- Specially prescribed and non-prescribed eyeglasses.
- Get plenty of light exposure throughout the day.
- Keep screens away from your face at night.
- Visit: www.Lowbluelights.com
WE ARE LOOKING FOR STORIES TO SHARE
One of the most popular features of TGF’s Eye to Eye newsletter and electronic newsletter update has been our “Lifestyle Connection/Living with Glaucoma” series, in which glaucoma patients, inspiring and often courageous, have shared their personal stories. We’ve featured a teenager who lives life to the fullest, a triathlete who makes news, an active 90-year-old woman who shared fine advice, and Tony Bouchér, among others.
We are always looking for individuals whose lives have been impacted by glaucoma and whose experiences can inform others. If you would like to share your own story, or suggest another, email firstname.lastname@example.org.