"I feel so lucky that I was diagnosed early" – Young Glaucoma Patient Recounts How a Simple Eye Exam Helped Save His Sight, Urges Others to Get Checked

Approximately a million Americans are living with glaucoma – a leading cause of irreversible blindness – but do not know it because the disease frequently has no early warning signs, and the only way of detecting glaucoma is through a comprehensive, dilated eye exam. San Francisco digital advertising executive and father of two, Barak Kassar, knows this fact about glaucoma all too well.

Barak Kassar
Barak Kassar

At age 28, he had never worried about his vision. But it was at this age that a routine eye exam revealed that Barak had developed iridocorneal endothelial (ICE) syndrome, a rare eye condition that causes glaucoma.  Barak was in disbelief at first. After all, he had no symptoms, and found it hard to accept his ophthalmologist's warning: that he was at risk for vision loss that neither glasses nor contacts could fix. He did not take the warnings very seriously at first. 

Initially he was prescribed a daily regimen of medicated eyedrops, but eventually the disease progressed to the point where several glaucoma surgeries and two corneal transplants, in which corneal tissue – which makes up the clear, front cover of the eye – is removed and donor tissue is put in its place, were necessary to maintain his eyesight. At a young age he had sustained vision loss. But it could have been worse. 

Barak says he was fortunate that his father, also an ophthalmologist, educated him about the value of eye care and examined his eyes routinely – in fact, it was his father who diagnosed him with ICE Syndrome and glaucoma and referred Barak to local specialists in San Francisco. Now, at age 46, he realizes that if not for his family's background in the field, his diseases may not have been caught in time – especially since the set of conditions were symptom-free.  

Even with early detection, Barak has lost most of the vision in his left eye, so his right eye must do double the work. Although he still enjoys the same activities and freedoms as he did with two healthy eyes – like driving, using the computer and playing with his children – he must be very diligent about preserving the vision in his remaining healthy eye to ensure he can continue enjoying these things.

The biggest challenge, Barak explains, is the time he must dedicate to managing his glaucoma and ICE syndrome; with visits to his ophthalmologist every three months, as well as the procedures and surgeries required to keep his vision damage in check. To further protect his one good eye, he always wears eye protection when performing some household tasks such as hammering nails, or other potentially hazardous activities. One of Barak's friends describes his vision maintenance routine as having a hobby – but not a hobby he wanted.  

"I had never imagined a disease like glaucoma could affect someone as young as I was, and I had never even heard of ICE Syndrome," said Barak. "Since I didn't have any symptoms then, I didn't take the conditions very seriously. Now, I feel so lucky that I was diagnosed early and that I've received such good care from my ophthalmologists."  

Barak joins the American Academy of Ophthalmology to encourage everyone to get their eyes checked routinely. As with Barak, most patients do not experience any symptoms during the early stages of serious eye diseases like glaucoma, macular degeneration, diabetic eye disease and other conditions. To catch eye diseases early and preserve healthy vision, ophthalmologists suggest making regular, dilated eye exams a part of your healthcare routine.  

The Academy recommends getting a baseline eye exam no later than age 40. For individuals at any age with symptoms of, or risk for, eye disease, such as those with a family history of eye disease, diabetes or high blood pressure, the Academy advises seeing an ophthalmologist – a medical doctor specializing in the diagnosis, medical and surgical treatment of eye diseases and conditions – to determine how frequently their eyes should be examined. By age 65, everyone should have eye exams every one to two years, or as directed by an ophthalmologist. Many within this age group may qualify for an eye exam and up to one year of care for no out-of-pocket cost through EyeCare America. To see if you, your friends or your family members qualify, visit www.eyecareamerica.org.  

Page updated: Jan. 24, 2014

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