Living with Glaucoma

Published on Jul 30, 2015

People with early stage glaucoma can live full lives, but as the disease progresses, there are some adjustments that can be made in order to live more independently. This article offers tips on how to avoid injury, adjust for changes in vision, and optimize your continued activity.

If you have been diagnosed with glaucoma in the early stage, chances are you already have some damage to the optic nerve. You may have noticed a change in vision, or have had no obvious symptoms at all. Though glaucoma is a progressive disease that cannot be cured, treatment with certain medicines can delay further damage to the optic nerve.

Know the Limitations in Your Field of Vision

Because glaucoma is slowly progressive, it takes people a while to realize their field of vision is constricting or getting smaller.

Pay close attention to what you can and cannot see. For instance, when you are looking at a person’s face, can you see their hand when they extend it to you for a hand shake or do you have to search for their hand because you do not immediately see it? Do you have to turn your head left and right or up and down in order to see a person’s entire face when standing a few feet in front of them? It’s important to know the answers to these questions in order to make accommodations in your schedule, your home, and your activities.

To help with your safety, you may want to:

  • Remove throw rugs from the floors in your home
  • Use a walker or cane outdoors
  • Remove all obstacles in your way at home (e.g., ottomans, glass coffee tables, power cords); Or at least be aware of where they are so you can walk around them to avoid injury

Know Your Driving Limits

Visual field restrictions hinder sight in people with glaucoma. Changes in peripheral—or side vision—can make it harder for drivers to see obstructions or pedestrians alongside their vehicle. Additionally, people with glaucoma may have blurred vision or sensitivity to lights while driving at night. But be aware of any changes in your vision and see your ophthalmologist if you suspect there is a change.

The loss of (some) vision due to glaucoma does not necessarily prevent a person from driving; however, it is important to consider how visual limits affect your driving. Some of the following tips may be helpful:

  • Limit driving to local areas when traffic may be lighter. Learn about the times in your area when traffic is lighter
  • If there is some restriction to your peripheral field of vision, changing lanes when driving can be hazardous
  • Nighttime driving can be difficult for many drivers even in the absence of glaucoma, but glaucoma can increase the difficulty. Try to limit your night time driving if possible

Always consult your eye doctor about whether it is safe for you to drive a car.

Know Your Glaucoma Medication

Glaucoma medication is important because it can help lower eye pressure, slow further damage to the optic nerve, and preserve your remaining eyesight. Take your glaucoma medications exactly as prescribed. It may help to create a schedule that is easy to remember—especially if you are taking more than one medication. Be sure to speak with your doctor or caregiver about the best time to administer your medication.

It’s also important to always remember to tell your doctors about all the medications you are taking. Because certain glaucoma medication can cause side effects, let your healthcare providers know what eye drops you are using and how often you are using them.

Become Active in Managing Your Glaucoma

Be an active participant in your own healthcare. If you need help with managing your glaucoma or if you are uncertain about any part of your care, ask your doctor or pharmacist.

Here are some things you should know when managing your condition:

  • Vision aids, such as magnifiers, large print items, and audio devices are available for people with limited vision or fields of vision
  • Make sure you attend your doctor appointments and take your medications as prescribed
  • If you are taking eye drop medications, be sure that you know how to instill your eye drops properly or have a caregiver do it for you
  • If you have difficulty with drops, or do not have anyone at home who can help you, ask your doctor or pharmacist about eye-drop aids that can make administering your eye drops easier
  • To learn how to properly administer eye drops, read the packet insert that comes with the eye drops or ask your doctor (or pharmacist) for brochures or a demonstration

You are the best person to advocate for your health care. If you experience changes in your vision, speak with your ophthalmologist as soon as possible. Describe the changes as specifically as you can and offer examples, so that you and your doctor can address the issue immediately. Many people with glaucoma can live full lives by managing their condition and understanding its potential limitations. You can continue to be a self-sufficient individual.

Charles Tressler, M.D. is an ophthalmologist and a Senior Director in Worldwide Safety and Regulatory at Pfizer.

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