Early Detection Critical to Treating Glaucoma



Glaucoma is a major cause of vision loss worldwide. It affects more than 3 million people in the United States—nearly half of whom are unaware they have the disease. During Glaucoma Awareness Month in January, the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences joins the American Academy of Ophthalmology in reminding the public that early detection and treatment can help protect your sight.

Glaucoma damages the optic nerve, which transmits visual information from the retina to the brain. Typically, the disease initially has no signs or symptoms. If left untreated, glaucoma can cause irreversible blindness.

The Academy recommends that everyone have a comprehensive eye exam at age 40. This exam provides ophthalmologists – physicians who specialize in medical and surgical eye care – an opportunity to carefully examine the eye including the optic nerve for signs of damage and other possible problems that may affect vision. Individuals at greater risk for developing glaucoma include people:

  • over age 40;
  • of African, Asian or Hispanic heritage;
  • who have high eye pressure detected during an eye exam;
  • who are farsighted or nearsighted;
  • who have experienced eye trauma or eye injury;
  • whose corneas are thin in the center;
  • or who have health problems such as diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure or poor blood circulation.

Appropriate treatment for glaucoma depends on the specific type and severity of the disease. Medicated eye drops or laser treatments are the most common initial approach. These techniques work by lowering eye pressure to reduce the amount of fluid in the eye, and by increasing fluid outflow from the eye.

“The vision loss from glaucoma is sneaky— it usually starts in the peripheral/side vision and only is noticeable to patients in their central vision when severely advanced, so getting a formal checkup with testing is a key,”

Said Gregg A. Heatley, MD, MMM, an associate professor and Glaucoma specialist at the Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, “Once detected, there is good success at stabilizing the loss with drops and/or laser treatment, and if even those aren’t enough, there are several surgical procedures that can be done. Like other diseases involving the central nervous system, we cannot yet restore the function that is lost.”

“Our goal is to keep the damage from progressing. That’s why early detection and constant treatment is such an important part of care for this problem. In one small way, drops for glaucoma care and insulin for diabetes care are similar— we need to use the right medications at the right times every single day in order to do our best to prevent damage from these diseases.”


About the American Academy of Ophthalmology

The American Academy of Ophthalmology is the world’s largest association of eye physicians and surgeons. A global community of 32,000 medical doctors, we protect sight and empower lives by setting the standards for ophthalmic education and advocating for our patients and the public. We innovate to advance our profession and to ensure the delivery of the highest quality eye care. Our EyeSmart® program provides the public with the most trusted information about eye health. For more information, visit aao.org.