Eye Health

Updated 15 February 2016

Treating glaucoma before its too late

Alan Leighton discovered he had glaucoma when he noticed a gray area of sight in his left eye.

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Alan Leighton discovered he had glaucoma when he noticed a gray area of sight in his left eye.

That was in 1992. "I think I had it a long time before that, but I didn't know until then," said Leighton, 68, a corporate treasurer who lives in Indianapolis. "Glaucoma is like that. It's sneaky."

Leighton made an appointment with his ophthalmologist to see what was wrong. "We went for a bunch of tests, and he determined there was an issue with that eye, and that I had normal pressure glaucoma," he said.

His response was unsentimental and pragmatic: His family has a history of glaucoma, so the news wasn't a total surprise.

"I decided that we needed to take the most proactive methods we could," Leighton said. "I would go to the best people I could find and see what methods they had to address it and keep it from getting worse. I wanted to keep it from affecting my right eye, which was relatively clear. I didn't know what the process was going to be to actually stop the glaucoma or reverse it, if it was even possible. I don't know if there was a lot of emotion involved. It was more like, 'Hey, what can we do about this?'"

He asked if there was any way to restore the sight he'd lost, and the answer was no. "They pretty much said that gray area in my left eye was going to stay there, and there was no opportunity to do any procedures to effectively change that," he said. "It had something to do with the optic nerve."

But eye experts did begin trying different treatments. Leighton recalls trying various types of eye drops and at one point having laser treatment.

"Along the way, I began to get this treatment with these very specific drops, Lumigan and Alphagan P," Leighton said. "Those are the two I currently take even to this day. They have, up to this point anyway, arrested the glaucoma and kept it from spreading. I don't know how long that will go on, but I know up to now they've been working satisfactorily."

Leighton said that his vision has held steady for 17 years. The gray area in his left eye hasn't expanded, and his contact lens prescription hasn't changed in 15 years. The only real change, he said, is that he occasionally needs reading glasses.

But he does go to the eye doctor every four to six months for tests to see if any significant change, either positive or negative, has taken place.

"I'm sure that if I hadn't had this treatment I would not have my sight," Leighton said. "These are pretty much miracle drugs, as far as I'm concerned."

Leighton still works in a job that requires reading and analysis. "I definitely need my vision," he said. "I'm going to continue working as long as I live, if I can. Having vision will help that happen."

But overall he's pretty sanguine about his situation.

"I am hopeful, of course, but I don't know if over long periods of time things can be expected to remain the same," he said. "Just aging can change things over time."

"When you get old, you get old and things wear out," he said. "But I'm hopeful that, from a vision standpoint, I'll be able to maintain this same level of ability."

 

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Optometrist

Megan Goodman qualified as an optometrist from the University of Johannesburg and is currently practising at Tygerberg Academic Hospital in Cape Town. She has recently completed a Masters degree in Clinical Epidemiology at Stellenbosch University. She has a keen interest in ocular pathology and evidence based medicine as well as contact lenses.

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