Last week I was told that after ten years of being treated for glaucoma, I don’t have the condition after all. The treatment, latanaprost eyedrops before bed, wasn’t particularly arduous — but still, every medication has its side effects and I’m glad I’m off it. I had been such a good patient, too, afraid I’d go blind if I missed my drops. Once, I forgot to take them on a trip and spent a panicked day getting a prescription transferred to another state.
Glaucoma is not a good thing to have. Pressure can build up in the eye when the normal drainage of eye fluid is blocked, resulting in damage to the optic nerve. My pressures were always a little high and in fact, my optic nerve is underdeveloped — a not uncommon condition known as “optic nerve hypoplasia.” So a decade ago, an ophthalmologist put two and two together and diagnosed glaucoma.
Repeatedly over the years I’ve had to take an annoying and somewhat stressful test, called the “visual field.” This test requires the patient to lean forward uncomfortably and peer into a machine, clicking a remote whenever a dot of light appears.
As time went on, the frequency of this and other tests increased, so that I was visiting an eye clinic for a couple of hours every four months. Always, I was told that there was no change in the test results and that I should continue with the drops.
Each visit to the eye doctor was pretty much taking up an entire day, given the driving time and how tired I felt after the tests. Finally, I decided to try a new clinic.
There, the ophthalmologist told me that I have unusually thick corneas and that these could account for the readings showing slightly elevated pressures in my eyes. He took me off the drops for six weeks and then found that my pressures were fine once the readings were corrected for the thick corneas. The optic nerve hypoplasia is something hereditary and isn’t getting any worse, just as the tests were showing. Glaucoma, by contrast, is a progressive disease.
So good-bye, glaucoma and good riddance!
I raise this personal story because I wonder how many of us seniors are being unnecessarily treated for one condition or another. Medications prescribed years in the past may no longer be needed or perhaps were never needed in the first place.
The answer may lie in being alert to the problem, doing our own research, and asking tough questions of our physicians. If we’re lucky, we’ll find physicians who are willing to re-examine past diagnoses and prescriptions.
Last year, my trusted primary care physician took me off one of my two blood pressure medications, with no adverse result. That medication too had been unnecessary.
One less pill in the pillbox, and no more prescription eyedrops. I love it when life gets simpler!