The University of Iowa
The University of Iowa News Services Home News Releases UI in the News Subscribe to UI News Contact Us


Joint Office for Planning, Marketing and Communications
8788 John Pappajohn Pavilion
Iowa City IA 52242
(319) 356-3945

Release: Jan. 22, 2003

(Photo: Wallace Alward, M.D., University of Iowa professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and director of the UI Glaucoma Service)

University of Iowa Health Care 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 don't 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., University of Iowa professor of ophthalmology and visual sciences and director of the UI Glaucoma Service.

So, who's 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," Alward said.

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."

For more information, visit online at

University of Iowa Health Care describes the partnership between the UI 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