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University of Iowa News Release

Dec. 31, 2003

(Photo: Wallace Alward, M.D.)

UI Hospitals And Clinics Eye Specialist Warns Of Glaucoma Risk

There are approximately 2.2 million Americans age 40 and older that have glaucoma, and half are at risk for going blind because they do not know they have the disease. You could be one of them.

Glaucoma is a condition in which the optic nerve, responsible for transmitting visual information from the eye to the brain, is damaged. It can be associated with elevated pressure within the eye and could lead to vision loss. It may begin with loss of peripheral vision, then advance to a reduction in central vision and then can potentially lead to blindness.

"Most people who have glaucoma don't notice symptoms until they begin to lose some vision. Vision loss in glaucoma is a late finding, and ophthalmologists would prefer to begin treating patients before there are any symptoms. Vision loss from glaucoma can be prevented if it's caught and treated in time," said Wallace Alward, M.D., professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences with the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and director of the UI Glaucoma Service with UI Hospitals and Clinics.

So, who is at risk? Age is an important factor. "Glaucoma is uncommon before the age of 40 and the risk increases with advancing age. African-Americans have a higher incidence of glaucoma and it often appears at a younger age than in other racial groups. Anyone with a close relative -- father, mother or sibling -- with glaucoma, older people, those with diabetes and people who've had a serious eye injury are also considered at risk," said Alward, who also is a staff physician with the Veterans Affairs Medical Center in Iowa City.

Anyone who falls into these groups should talk with their eye specialist about how often they need to have their eyes examined to ensure good vision.

Although glaucoma cannot be cured, early detection and treatment can usually preserve vision. Know your risk factors and have your eyes examined at the intervals recommended by your eye doctor.

"People need to be aware that the diagnosis of glaucoma is made by examining the optic nerve of the eye, not by measuring the eye pressure," Alward said. "A high pressure in the eye is simply a risk factor for developing glaucoma. A normal pressure screen at a health fair does not mean that an individual does not have glaucoma. Half of patients with glaucoma would have been missed by a simple pressure screen."

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University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the University of Iowa Roy J. and Lucille A. Carver College of Medicine and UI Hospitals and Clinics and the patient care, medical education and research programs and services they provide. Visit UI Health Care online at

STORY SOURCE: Joint Office for Planning, Marketing and Communications, 200 Hawkins Drive, Room 8798 JPP, Iowa City, Iowa 52242-1009

CONTACT(S): Tom Moore, 319-356-3945,

PHOTO: An electronic photo of Wallace Alward is available for downloading at