Guest post by Julie Pepper Lim, Marketing & Communications Coordinator at Meritage Medical Network.
The story as I understand it, is that when my grandfather was a little boy, he and his family made a plan to migrate to Ellis Island. In those days, they did a medical exam before allowing people to begin their journey, allowing or preventing immigrants to depart for the US only after an American consular office abroad had granted them Visas. Historically, the eye exam was always a big one, where they turned back people’s eyelids with their fingers or a buttonhook to check for trachoma. In my grandfather’s case, he didn’t pass the test. They thought he had glaucoma, and his family left him behind for two years!
When he finally came over, it turned out he didn’t have glaucoma after all, though undoubtedly that diagnosis impacted his young life. I always wondered why they thought he had glaucoma, or if there was some part of the story that had over the years deteriorated leaving a gap in it, because eventually he did lose his eye. Somewhere between him not passing the test because the migration physicians suspected he had glaucoma and him becoming a pharmacist, an expert grammarian, a lover of opera, an avid reader, and marrying my grandma, he lost his eye which was replaced with a glass one. I only knew this because one day, when I was at their apartment having breakfast with my grandma, my grandpa came storming back into the house, darting back to the bathroom covering where the eye would be, while muttering, “I forgot my eye!”
In doing some additional sleuthing, I found out that my grandpa lost his eye to a malignant melanoma. Though people with glaucoma may be susceptible for later malignancy, it’s a stretch to think that the migration physicians knew this, as my grandfather was never diagnosed with glaucoma in his adult life and only got the malignant melanoma much later. So, the relation is negligible, yet when I was a kid and I was putting these stories together, I had assumed that he lost his eye to glaucoma back before he came to the states and later whenever I heard the word glaucoma, I thought of him. I was surprised to discover glaucoma had nothing to do with his glass eye, though now in retrospect, it seems like some strange kind of foreshadowing.
It’s National Glaucoma Awareness Month. What is glaucoma, anyway?! It’s an eye disease that can damage your optic nerve. The optic nerve supplies visual information to your brain from your eyes. You know when you go to the eye doctor and they check your eye pressure? Well, glaucoma is usually the result of high pressure inside your eye. Increased pressure can erode the optic nerve tissue which can in turn lead to vision loss or even blindness. That’s why it’s so important to catch it early if you can, to prevent additional vision loss.
What causes glaucoma? It seems any kind of obstruction that prevents the aqueous humor, a clear fluid that the back of our eyes continuously make, from exiting the cornea and iris can contribute to intraocular pressure. There is a whole list of things that can play a role in causing pressure in our eyes and sometimes doctors don’t fully know what might be causing the pressure.
There are several types of glaucoma. Angle-Closure (Acute) Glaucoma is an emergency situation which is accompanied by symptoms such as severe pain, nausea and blurred vision. So, if you were experiencing those symptoms you’d want to address them immediately, but the more insidious type is Open-Angle (Chronic) Glaucoma which has no signs or symptoms except gradual vision loss. This is the most common type and why we have a Glaucoma Awareness Month. This is also a critical reason for why it is so important to get your eyes checked annually and regularly.
January is National Glaucoma Awareness Month—so give your ophthalmologist a call and get your eyes checked. Simple tests performed during a routine eye exam, should be able to help detect damage from glaucoma before it advances. Through these tests, any other eye abnormalities or changes might be discovered early, which could save you from unnecessary loss to the incredible gift of vision.