PUBLISHED: 11:35 AM on Wednesday, February 1, 2006
People with glaucoma may not be aware of condition
Rosella Hupp had no risk factors, no symptoms and no reason to believe her vision was being stolen until April 1999.

That is when she was diagnosed with glaucoma, a disease sometimes referred to as the thief of sight.

"After I became aware, I realized I wasn't seeing people at the grocery store," said Hupp.

"I almost ran into them."

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that involve damage to the optic nerve.

Peripheral or side vision is lost over an extended period of time, often so gradually that people don't realize there is a problem until the damage is extensive and begins affecting their life.

When she looks straight ahead, Hupp's range of vision extends out to near 35 degrees on her right side and to a little better than 45 degrees on her left.

Her vision improves when viewing objects above and below eye level - but not by much. She said she has learned to compensate by turning her head and limiting her night-time driving.

Normal peripheral vision for one eye is approximately 150 degrees from side to side, and for both eyes is approximately 180 degrees.

Arla Genstler, Hupp's ophthalmologist and the owner of Genstler Eye Center, said glaucoma can have a significant effect on a person's quality of life.

"The biggest problem is functioning in low-light conditions," Genstler said.

Other disruptions include impaired depth perception, an inability to see small details, a loss in the overall quality of vision and a feeling of not being comfortable while driving at night, she said.

"One of the challenges of glaucoma is that there are no symptoms," Genstler said, adding while holding her hands in a binocular-like position in front of her eyes that "a person can have 20/20 vision, but they may only see this much."

The disease progresses painlessly and gradually, and it can affect one or both eyes.

In its most common form, glaucoma is caused when the balance between the amount of fluid produced by the eye exceeds the amount being drained.

High intraocular pressure, or IOP, then damages the optic nerve.

Risk factors for developing glaucoma include a family history of the disease, vascular problems affecting circulation, blunt trauma to the eye and race.

Black men and women are significantly more likely than men and women of any other race to be diagnosed with and experience blindness from glaucoma.

Treatment for glaucoma may include eye drops, laser surgery or a combination of the two.

There is no cure for glaucoma, and the treatments are designed to slow or prevent further vision loss.