I started feeling less and less comfortable driving
John, 68 years old
“My vision was sort of blurry, and I saw a kind of halo around street lamps and car lights.”
I noticed the first symptoms about seven years ago. My vision was sort of blurry, and I saw a kind of halo around street lamps and car lights. So at some point I decided to go to my eye doctor. But he didn't find anything. The symptoms got worse over time, though, so I ended up driving to an eye clinic, where they pretty quickly diagnosed me with glaucoma. The pressure in one of my eyes was particularly high at the time. The doctors suggested that I have surgery on that eye, so I had it done.
Once I left the hospital I looked for a new eye doctor. I was prescribed eye drops for the eye that wasn’t operated on. Both eyes were affected by the disease, but the pressure was different in each eye. After a while, though, I had to start using eye drops in both eyes after all.
Things carried on that way for a few years and then I had surgery for a different eye problem. Everything went well and I no longer had to use eye drops for my eye pressure. I still don’t have to, even now. Of course, the surgery didn’t affect the glaucoma itself though, because damage to optic nerves is irreversible. That will never get better again through surgery.
Treatment with eye drops
Eye drops are often prescribed for the treatment of glaucoma, to lower your eye pressure. But doctors often don’t have any time to explain how to use them properly. A lot of people will stand in front of a mirror at home and squeeze the drops into their eye in some way or another. The fact that things are different with different kinds of eye drops and different manufacturers doesn’t make it any easier. For example, some bottles need to be squeezed really hard for any drops to come out. If you’re not careful, a big load might squirt out into your eye at once. And the bottles are often really small, and empty out pretty quickly if that happens a couple of times.
If you realize that you’re probably not doing it properly, you can ask your doctor or contact a support group. There are a couple of tricks that help, like using your finger to gently press the inside corner of your eye for a while after putting the eye drops in.
The blurred vision I always had in the beginning was caused by the high pressure in my eyes. This can go away if you use medication or have surgery and your eye pressure goes down. Although the symptoms can be treated in this way, it won’t repair the optic nerve.
I have blind spots in my field of vision because of the damage to my optic nerve. This affects everyone differently. Some people can’t see things on their left side, others can’t see things on the right, at the top or bottom of their field of vision. And the more the optic nerve is damaged, the worse you can see in general.
In my case, the whole of the outer edge and the sides of my field of vision are affected. The problem with my vision started at the outer edge and is gradually moving towards the middle: so if someone comes up behind me and overtakes me on my right, I won’t see them until they’re in front of me. I can’t see them beforehand out of the corner of my eye. That’s obviously a big problem if you want to drive.
Because of my trouble seeing, I don’t feel confident walking. I’m also more sensitive to bright lights, which often dazzle me, and I find it hard to see contrasts. Sidewalks are plain gray surfaces to me. If there are any bumps, I won’t see them very well, and I often only notice them when I step on them. That can sometimes be dangerous.
I also do a bit of Nordic walking, to work on my balance. Jogging is no longer an option, but the Nordic walking poles make me feel more stable and that works out quite well.
Not confident driving
As time went by, I started feeling less and less comfortable driving. One day I wanted to drive somewhere and ended up stopping at an intersection for ages, looking around, and cars kept on coming but I simply couldn’t drive off. I just couldn’t see what was on the road properly. At that moment it became clear to me that, with a lot of luck, I would manage to reach the next intersection and then crash, if not earlier. So I made a snap decision to drive the car straight back to my garage and never drive again. I have never driven a car again since that day.
I can still work at a computer, as long as the screen resolution is high enough. That’s really important to me because I enjoy it. I also got myself a scanner. I often have difficulties reading things like product inserts because the writing is so small. If that happens, I’ll scan it so I can enlarge the writing on the computer screen and read it. I can still figure some things out with the help of my reading glasses, but that involves a lot of effort and my eyes soon start hurting.
As soon as it gets dark I can hardly see anything anymore. Because of this I had training to learn how to use a white cane when walking. The reason I wanted to learn to use it was because I know that my sight is getting worse, and I want to be prepared in case I reach the point where I can’t see anything at all. Using the cane isn’t as easy as you might think. You really have to learn how to use it properly.
Unfortunately there’s nothing doctors can do to fix my optic nerve. But I’m trying to make the best of my situation and I get by reasonably well.
I find it important to get your medical documents, or at least copies, from your doctors. Then, if you don’t feel happy with your doctor, you can always get a second opinion. Support groups can help if things are getting you down. Sometimes it’s easier to talk with people there than with a doctor.
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The real-life stories give an insight into how other people cope and live with a medical condition. Their opinions and comments are not recommendations by IQWiG.
Please note: The names of our interview partners have been changed to protect their identity. The photos are of models.