Glaucoma Awareness

Recognizing Glaucoma Awareness Month this January, four glaucoma experts from the Illinois Eye and Ear Infirmary share their insights about glaucoma.

Normal vision

Simulation of vision loss over time due to glaucoma.

Advanced glaucoma

Normal vision

What if you could save someone from going blind?

Most patients are not aware that they are going blind from glaucoma, as glaucoma is damaging the optic nerve slowly; therefore, it is known as the silent thief of sight. 

Glaucoma affects 88 million individuals worldwide and 3 million Americans. Primary open-angle glaucoma, the most prevalent type, is more common among the elderly, African Americans, and Hispanics, while angle-closure glaucoma is common among Asians. Additional risk factors are a history of diabetes, eye injury, inflammation in the eyes, or long-term use of steroids. Because glaucoma blindness is not reversible, early detection and treatment are critical to slow down this process. 

How to detect glaucoma?

A complete glaucoma evaluation requires testing and monitoring of optic nerve structure with photographs and laser scans as well optic nerve function with peripheral vision tests.  The testing is extensive but gives eye specialists the best chance of early disease detection and catching progression.  Newer peripheral vision tests are designed to be much faster and less strenuous and may even use virtual reality goggles to make the test easier.  These tests need to be repeated periodically, but there is often a “learning effect” that makes the tests easier to take over time.

Is there a hope to reverse glaucoma blindness? 

Stem cells treatment for glaucoma is an exciting concept. However, no therapies in humans have been approved to date. 

Stem cell transplants into trabecular meshwork cells in the front of the eye in the laboratory can lower eye pressure. 

In the back eye, laboratories are working to restore vision by protecting degenerating retinal ganglion cells at the back of the eye. Also, several groups globally are working on replacing retinal ganglion cells and growing optic nerves fibers to connect these cells to the brain.

For these bold concepts to be brought to the clinic, safety and efficacy are to be demonstrated in animal models, followed by various phases of clinical trials.

What about children?

Children can develop glaucoma any time after birth, after trauma and after eye surgery. Infants should be referred to ophthalmologists to be screened for glaucoma if they have signs of tearing, aversion to light and enlargement of their eyes. Glaucoma should also be considered in any child with progressive nearsightedness, family history of childhood glaucoma and systemic use of steroid containing medications. Prompt diagnosis is imperative to save sight in childhood glaucoma.

The bottom line is everyone should get a complete eye exam by the age of 40 by eye care professionals. In addition to detecting early glaucoma, this screening eye examination may discover other common eye conditions that require treatment. 

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month. Please help us save sight by sharing this information with your loved ones.

Learn more about Glaucoma with our Eye Facts

Watch a recap of our Glaucoma information:

Thasarat Surabutr Vajaranant, MD, MHA
Professor of Ophthalmology and Vice Chair for Strategic Initiatives
Director, Glaucoma Service
Ahmad A. Aref, MD, MBA
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology and Vice Chair for Clinical Affairs
Director, Glaucoma Fellowship
Edward Deepak Deepak P. Edward, MD, FACS, FARVO
Professor of Ophthalmology and Vice Chair for Education
Glaucoma Service
Mehmet Mocan, MD
Associate Professor of Ophthalmology
Pediatrics and Strabismus Service