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Veterans Health Administration


VA Working hard on Veterans’ eye problems


Doctor sits looking at images of a retina on a monitor

Computer Assisted Planimetry: An expert analyzes optic nerve stereo photos which are compared to an automated computer analysis of the same images for use in Telemedicine applications.

285,000 Vets have Glaucoma

The best resolution a Veteran could make this year is to get an eye check-up.

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month and a perfect reminder to all Veterans to take action now to prevent this sight-stealing disease.

An estimated 1.5 million Veterans have a vision-threatening eye disease, including 285,000 with glaucoma.

African-American Veterans should especially get their eyes checked regularly as glaucoma is six-to-eight times more common in African-Americans than Caucasians. Also, among Hispanic populations, Glaucoma is the leading cause of blindness.

The highest risk group is those Veterans over 60.

“It is so important for Veterans to have regular eye exams.”

— Dr. Randy H. Kardon

What is glaucoma? Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases in which the optic nerve, a bundle of over 1 million nerves that convey vision from the eye to the brain, slowly becomes damaged over time. In many cases, blood flow to the optic nerve is reduced, and may be further reduced by increased fluid pressure inside the eyes slowly rising, leading to vision loss or even blindness.

Glaucoma usually starts without any symptoms. Later, there is some loss of side vision. Objects straight ahead are seen clearly, but objects to the side are missed. As the disease worsens, the ability to see objects on the side is increasingly lost, and eventually the center of vision is affected.

The test for glaucoma is painless. Your VA doctor will test the pressure in your eye by placing an instrument on its surface. If there is a suspicion for glaucoma, the appearance and function of the optic nerve are tested with a visual field test and a special retina camera, both of which can detect damage to the optic nerves.

Glaucoma is treated with eye drops, but in some cases, eye surgery is necessary to optimally lower the eye pressure. These treatments work to either make less fluid, or to improve its drainage out of the eye.

Glaucoma is a life-long problem. Veterans should have regular check-ups by an ophthalmologist to watch for changes in pressure and side vision.

VA Researches New Approaches for Treatment

VA is working hard to help prevent Veterans’ eye problems at the Iowa City VA Center for the Prevention and Treatment of Visual Loss.

The Center conducts cutting-edge research in the diagnosis of visual loss, and works to understand the underlying mechanisms and causes of visual loss. With this research, the Center can study new approaches toward rehabilitation and treatment of visual loss, while improving education and clinical care of our nation’s Veterans.

According to Dr. Randy H. Kardon, Director of the Center, “Glaucoma is one of the silent causes of vision loss.

Patients are unaware that they are slowly losing vision until it is too late, at which time the loss is permanent. That is why it is so important for Veterans to have regular eye exams to check for any sign that glaucoma is developing and to be treated.”

VA invests significant effort toward detecting and monitoring of treatment of vision loss, requiring approximately five million visits per year, which is increasing.

The Center of Excellence for the Prevention and Treatment of Visual Loss is helping to solve this problem through new methods of detection, understanding the underlying mechanisms of disease, developing new treatment strategies and telemedicine initiatives.

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