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Glaucoma: The Sneak Thief of Sight

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the world (cataract is first) and the leading cause of blindness in African American and Hispanic populations in America. According to a study entitled Vision problems in the U.S. by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute, there are nearly 2.3 million Americans and over 93,000 Ohioans, ages 40 and older, affected by glaucoma. Half of those people may not even realize they have the disease. According to Prevent Blindness Ohio, a non-profit public health organization dedicated to preventing blindness and preserving sight, people at high risk for glaucoma include:

  • Everyone 40 and older
  • African Americans and Hispanic Americans
  • Those with a family history of glaucoma
  • People with diabetes
  • People who are very nearsighted
  • People who have had eye injuries or surgery
  • People who use long-term steroid medications for chronic breathing problems


Glaucoma is an eye disease that can cause irreversible loss of sight by damaging a part of the eye called the optic nerve. This nerve sends information from the eyes to the brain. When the optic nerve is damaged, peripheral vision begins to diminish. If left untreated, over time, glaucoma may also damage central vision. Unfortunately, once vision is lost to glaucoma, it cannot be restored.

Vision loss can be lessened, however, if glaucoma is detected and treated early.


Attitudes about glaucoma assessed by Research to Prevent Blindness and reported on the Glaucoma Research Foundation: Facts and Stats Page reveal:

  • Blindness ranked third (after cancer and heart disease) as people’s major fear.
  • 20% of people knew that glaucoma was related to elevated pressure within the eye. Most of them mistakenly thought people with glaucoma always experience symptoms, that glaucoma was easily cured, or that glaucoma did not lead to blindness.
  • 50% had heard of glaucoma, but were not sure what it was.
  • 30% had never heard of glaucoma.

Glaucoma gives no early warning signs of potential vision loss. By the time you realize you are losing your eyesight, the vision you have already lost is gone forever. People at high risk for glaucoma need an eye exam at least every year.

Testing For Glaucoma

Glaucoma usually occurs when the normal fluid pressure inside the eye steadily increases. This can lead to optic nerve damage and reduced peripheral (side) vision. As the disease worsens, the field of vision gradually narrows, ultimately leading to blindness without treatment.

An annual comprehensive eye examination is the best way to diagnose glaucoma. This exam includes:
  • measurement of eye pressure – also called “tonometry” 
  • computerized side vision testing – also called “perimetry”
  • an assessment of the optic nerve through a dilated pupil.

This article is based on information provided by Prevent Blindness Ohio and was adapted for use on NetWellness with permission.

For more information:

Go to the Eye and Vision Care health topic.