Wednesday, January 20, 2016

Glaucoma: The Silent Thief of Vision

By: Dr. Micah J. Kinney with UAB eye care

International celebrity icon, Bono, surprised the world this past October with his announcement, “I have glaucoma.” He admitted to dealing with the disease for over two decades. With January being Glaucoma Awareness Month, it is important to bring attention to a silent, painless, and blinding disease.

So what is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a disease where the optic nerve becomes damaged, typically as the result of increased intraocular pressure (IOP). This damage to the optic nerve and its fibers leads to permanent vision loss. As with most medical conditions, glaucoma comes in many forms and can be the result of secondary etiologies such as ocular trauma. Normal tension glaucoma (NTG) is a common form that manifests itself under normal IOP conditions. Bono stated in his interview in October that he would get vision screenings and could see 20/20, but it wasn't until further testing that he was diagnosed with glaucoma. If visual acuities and IOP alone are not diagnostic, then what is?

Both the American Optometric Association and the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommend people of all ages to undergo regular comprehensive dilated eye exams, as glaucoma can effect all ages. During a thorough exam, a stereoscopic view of the optic nerve can reveal if there is nerve damage or suspicion for further testing of the optic nerve function and retinal nerve fiber layer.

Who is at risk for glaucoma? Individuals over the age of 60, and especially African Americans over the age of 40 are the most at risk. Family history of glaucoma and any previous history of ocular trauma can contribute significantly. Other medical conditions such as diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease have been shown to increase the risk of developing glaucoma. Patients who are on chronic corticosteroids should also be screened for glaucoma.

As Bono can attest, the treatments that are available for glaucoma have improved over the years. While a cure is not yet available, patients with a glaucoma diagnosis can be managed and controlled for years with good compliance. Initial treatment consists of topical ocular medications such as prostaglandins, beta-blockers, alpha-adrenergic agonists, and/or carbonic anhydrase inhibitors. Surgical interventions have improved and can involve laser therapy or shunt placement.

Overall, glaucoma is a silent thief of vision. It is important to have regular comprehensive eye exams to ensure good ocular health. For more information on Glaucoma Awareness Month check out:

To schedule a comprehensive eye exam or consultation with UAB Eye Care, please call (205) 975-2020. We accept most vision and medical insurance plans.

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