Glaucoma Awareness

Behrens Cropped
By Kristen Behrens, OD

Glaucoma is a group of ocular diseases that affect the optic nerve. The optic nerve is the portion of the eye responsible for relaying visual signals from the eye to the brain. It is comprised of 1 million individual nerve fibers, which become permanently damaged as a result of glaucoma. Damage to these nerve fibers causes loss of vision, and, in advanced cases, may lead to blindness.

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness in the United States. Therefore, it is important to identify those who are at risk and test for the disease early and frequently. Typically, individuals over the age of 40, African Americans, and individuals with a family history of glaucoma are at greater risk. Elevated eye pressure, thin corneas, and certain ocular and systemic conditions may also increase one’s risk for developing the condition. All factors are evaluated by an eye care provider when diagnosing the disease.

The most common form of glaucoma, “open-angle glaucoma”, is typically asymptomatic. Therefore, without an eye examination it may go undetected. During an examination, an eye care provider carefully evaluates, among other things, eye pressure and the appearance of the optic nerve. If there are signs of glaucoma, further testing is indicated.

Such additional testing includes automated visual fields, which detect loss of vision. When vision loss begins, it typically first affects the periphery but may progress to encroach on central vision in advanced stages. Visual fields may be done once or twice a year to monitor how rapidly and severely vision loss is occurring. Optical coherence tomography (OCT) measures that amount of optic nerve tissue present and indicates whether nerve fibers have been damaged and lost. This test may also be performed multiple times a year to monitor progression. Digital retinal photographs are also helpful in objectively comparing the appearance of the optic nerve from year to year.

Glaucoma is treated by reducing eye pressure. In most cases, this is accomplished with prescription eye drops. A daily regimen of instilling eye drops can help slow the progression of vision loss. In some instances, topical treatment may be ineffective or not indicated for the specific type of glaucoma present.  In these cases surgical treatment may be necessary.

glaucoma psa

While there is no cure for glaucoma, its progression can be slowed with proper treatment. It is important to have regular, dilated eye examinations to detect it early before significant vision loss occurs.

If you believe you are at risk for glaucoma, schedule an appointment with your eye care provider. Whittier Street Health Center offers Eye Care services that cover  a wide range of visual problems and eye disease. To contact the Eye Care/Optometry Department, call (617) 989-3058, or schedule an appointment online at

For more information:

A note about Whittier and COVID-19

Due to the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak in our area, we ask all clients and patients to call ahead before coming to any of our sites. We are working to take care of most clients/patients via phone/video encounter so we can meet your ongoing healthcare needs. This is for your safety and so we can provide the highest quality of care to you while following CDC guidance for COVID-19. Please call 617-427-1000 for any questions or concerns.

Whittier will provide COVID-19 testing from 10 am to 4 pm on Monday to Friday. Following CDC guidance, we recommend testing if you have a fever AND one of the following three symptoms: cough OR shortness of breath OR sore throat. Please bring your picture identification and your insurance card (if you have insurance).