BY MICHELLE MAISONVILLE
Glaucoma in young people is rare, but not impossible, says Dr. Richard Scheid, an optometrist at Dr. Richard Scheid and Associates in Kitchener.
Scheid said a simple definition of glaucoma is “an eye disease, which is essentially high pressure of the eye that can cause destruction of the tissue in the back of the eye, resulting in loss of vision.”
Chris Martin, a new media technologist at Conestoga College, was diagnosed with glaucoma about seven years ago. He was 29 at the time.“It was devastating,” Martin said. “The first thing that goes through your mind is, ‘Oh my god, I’m going to be blind.’
“When you put it in perspective it’s nothing compared to a terminal illness but it’s something you have to think through and know that it’s going to be OK,” he said.
Martin was fortunate to have caught it early enough that he only needs to use an eye drop treatment to keep the pressure in his eye down.
“There’s a possibility (of getting glaucoma in the other eye) but so far so good,” he said.
“Having undetected glaucoma when you’re younger has much more severe consequences,” Scheid said. “If it’s undetected you’re going to be living a longer period of time (with the disease going untreated) and you lose a certain percentage of vision every year.”
“You can end up with fairly serious vision loss (if it remains undetected),” he said.
Glaucoma affects 400,000 Canadians and 67 million people worldwide, according to the Glaucoma Research Society of Canada’s website.
Open angle glaucoma, the most common form of the disease, shows no symptoms, making it impossible to detect without regular eye exams.
“A person can come for an eye examination, have 20/20 vision and the eyes feel fine, but they can have quite high pressure of the eye,” Scheid said. “The only way of diagnosing is through routine eye examinations.”
The less common form of glaucoma, angle-closure glaucoma, causes pain and blurred vision.
Risk factors for glaucoma are having diabetes, a family history of glaucoma, being over the age of 60, being African American and over the age of 40, and taking steroid eye drops for other eye problems, which increases the pressure in the eye.
If detected early enough the treatment could be as simple as eye drops.
“The average person with glaucoma will only need one drop a day to keep the pressure down,” Scheid said.If eye drops don’t work other options may include oral medication or surgery. However, there is no cure and if left untreated, it could result in blindness.
“(But) it’s relatively rare to see someone go blind from glaucoma because the treatments in most cases are quite effective,” Scheid said.