News Releases

Jan. 16, 2013


National Institutes of Health and Emory Eye Center suggest regular dilated eye exams to detect glaucoma

Media contact:  Joy Bell, 404-778-3711

(ATLANTA) January is Glaucoma Awareness Month, and Emory Eye Center ophthalmologists encourage Americans at higher risk for glaucoma to schedule a comprehensive dilated eye exam — and to make a habit of doing so every one to two years. While anyone can get glaucoma, people at higher risk include:

• African Americans age 40 and over
• Adults over the age of 60, especially those who are Mexican American
• People who have a family history of the disease.

Glaucoma is a major cause of vision loss in the United States. It is becoming more prevalent as our population ages. Approximately 2.7 million Americans 40 and older have primary open-angle glaucoma, the most common form, and this number is expected to grow.

eye exam



Blue light tonometry is used to measure intraocular (eye) pressure. Elevated eye pressure is a risk factor for glaucoma. Photograph courtesy of the National Institutes of Health, National Eye Institute



Several large studies have shown that eye pressure is a major risk factor for optic nerve damage. In open-angle glaucoma pressure inside the eye rises to a level that may damage the optic nerve. When the optic nerve is damaged from increased pressure, vision loss may result.  “Vision Problems in the U.S.,” a report released in 2012, by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute, part of the NIH, predicts that by 2030 the disease will affect 4.2 million Americans.

Glaucoma can be detected in its early stages through a comprehensive dilated eye exam before vision loss occurs. During this exam, drops are placed in the eyes to dilate, or widen, the pupils. This allows an eye care professional to examine the optic nerve for signs of damage and other possible problems. An eye pressure test alone is not enough to detect glaucoma.

“Detecting glaucoma in its earliest stages gives us the best chance of maintaining good vision with treatment,” says glaucoma specialist Allen Beck, William and Clara Redmon Professor of Ophthalmology and director, section of glaucoma at Emory Eye Center.

People in the higher risk categories should not wait until they notice a problem with their vision to have an eye exam. Primary open-angle glaucoma often has no symptoms in its early stages, so people may not know they have glaucoma until they start to have noticeable vision loss.

A comprehensive, dilated eye exam can determine whether a person might have glaucoma or any other eye disorder or disease. Testing of the peripheral vision with a visual field examination is an important part of the evaluation. Ophthalmologists also have advanced diagnostic equipment that provides images of the retina and optic nerve to help detect glaucoma, as well as other eye disorders and diseases.


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