Glaucoma describes a group of diseases that damages the optic nerve. The optic nerve is responsible for carrying the visual information from the retina to the brain. Eye pressure is a major risk factor for damage caused by glaucoma; however, patients can have glaucoma without having high eye pressure and vice versa (patients with low or “normal” eye pressure may still develop glaucoma). Without treatment, glaucoma causes a slow, progressive loss of peripheral (side) vision which can lead to central vision loss in the later stages of the disease.
There are many different treatments for glaucoma, including eye drops, surgery and laser procedures. Even with treatment, some people with glaucoma do experience vision loss. The highest risks are in people with a family history of glaucoma, anyone over age 60, especially of Mexican-American descent, and African Americans over age 40.
It is common that patients notice the decrease in vision when the glaucoma becomes more advanced. Patients often complain of bumping into people, difficulty judging depth of curbs/steps and an overall dimming or darkening of the vision. In addition, patients with glaucoma have reduced night vision which starts even before the advanced stages of the disease. Because of the concerns in dim lighting, it is common for patients with early to moderate glaucoma to limit their driving to daytime activities. Having the proper glare control during the day can improve the vision and comfort when transitioning between different levels of lighting.
In the Vision Rehabilitation Service, we help people manage their glaucoma through contrast enhancement, glare control and lighting techniques, occupational therapy training to maximize the use of the residual visual field, and referrals for services such as orientation and mobility. Additionally, glasses, magnifiers and image minifiers may play a role in enhancing the function of patients with glaucoma.