Understanding Glaucoma


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By Esther Yang, OD, Optometrist

Glaucoma. This 8-letter word can be a mouthful – and inspires ignorance, confusion, and fear. However, with the proper knowledge, we can take care of our eyes and take the proper steps to manage it.

Each of our eyes has an optic nerve, and the nerve carries the image we see to the brain so that we can see the image we are looking at. The nerve, like our feet, comes in many sizes. Some people are born with large nerves and others with smaller nerves. Nerves, like shoes, come in lots of sizes. However, when we see a patient for the first time with a large nerve, we can’t tell if the patient was born with a big nerve or the nerve has grown over time. People who have glaucoma have high pressures in their eyes. The high pressure pushes on the nerve, causing lots of stress over time. As time passes, the nerve gets bigger. The bigger it gets, the more worried we become that the patient will lose vision.

Fortunately, glaucoma is a slowly progressive condition. There is a certain pattern to the vision loss. At first, the peripheral vision worsens. People just don’t see much out of the corner of their eyes. Then, when glaucoma becomes advanced, patients describe that it’s almost like looking through a tunnel.  We can also predict things that may tell us if you are at greater risk for glaucoma: thinner corneas, increased intraocular pressure, thinner nerve fiber layers, and abnormal visual field testing. Unfortunately, glaucoma is completely asymptomatic, and only a dilated eye exam can help screen for the condition. Additionally, age (greater than 60), African American or Hispanic descent, family history of glaucoma, and medical conditions such as hypertension and diabetes can put you at a greater risk for glaucoma.

However, we are equipped with all the tools here at Whittier Street Health Center Eye Care to gather all of the information and determine whether to initiate treatment or continue to monitor every few months. Because it is a slowly progressive condition, it is better that we continue to gather information on patients that we suspect have glaucoma so that we can see the whole picture.

If you are diagnosed with glaucoma, there are many eye drops that can usually manage the condition. However, there are also laser operations and surgery that can be used if necessary. While there is no cure for glaucoma, we can control progression to take care of and keep your eyes healthy at Whittier. It is also important to note that we are unable to restore vision lost to glaucoma.

Whittier offers Eye Care services, so if you feel you are at risk for glaucoma, would like a comprehensive eye exam, or need contact lenses, please schedule an appointment with your eye care provider. To contact the Eye Care/Optometry Department, call 617-989-3058, or schedule an appointment online at
Risk Factors:
Age (greater than 60)
African American or Hispanic descent
Family History
Medical conditions (Diabetes, Hypertension)


For more information:
American Optometric Association: Glaucoma
Glaucoma Research Foundation