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

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).