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Screening for Glaucoma

by Mary Calvagna, MS

The purpose of screening is early diagnosis and treatment. Screening tests are usually administered to people without current symptoms, but who may be at high risk for certain diseases or conditions. Since glaucoma usually has no symptoms and can occur in anybody regardless of risk factors, everybody should be screened for the disease as recommended by their physician.

Screening Tests

Regular eye exams by an eye care professional are the best way to screen for glaucoma. Because most people experience no symptoms with glaucoma, it is important to schedule a regular eye exam. The frequency depends on your age, risk factors, and general health. See the screening guidelines below.

During your eye exam, your eye care professional may do the following tests:

Visual acuity - This test measures how well you see at various distances. You will be asked to look at a chart of letters or numbers and identify what you see.

Tonometry - This test measures the pressure inside the eye. There are several types of tonometry; in air tonometry, a puff of air is sent onto the cornea to take the measurement. Another type uses a plastic prism that lightly pushes against your eye in order to measure your intraocular pressure. For this test, the eye is first numbed with an eye drop.

Gonioscopy -The eye care professional can see the drainage angle of your eye using a special lens. This can help determine if you are at risk for closed-angle glaucoma.

Pupil dilation - Drops are put in your eyes that enlarge/dilate your pupils. This allows the eye care professional to see more of the inside of your eye. Your close-up (near) vision may remain blurred for several hours afterwards.

Ophthalmoscopy - Once your pupils are dilated, the eye care professional will examine your optic nerve and the rest of your retina with an instrument called an ophthalmoscope. The color and appearance of the optic nerve may indicate if damage from glaucoma is present and how extensive it is.

Perimetry (visual field test) - This test produces a map of the complete field of vision. It is used to check whether there is damage to any area of vision.

Pachymetry - Your physician may measure the thickness of your cornea using a special machine called a corneal pachymeter.

Screening Guidelines

Ask your doctor for guidelines specific for your individual situation. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends the following general screening guidelines healthy adults with no risk factors for eye disease:

  • At least once between age 20 and 29
  • At least twice between age 30 and 39
  • Age 40-64: every 2 to 4 years
  • Age 65 and older: every 1 to 2 years

You should be screened more often, or as directed by your doctor, if you:

  • Have risk factors for glaucoma or other eye diseases
  • Have a family member who has glaucoma
  • Have a personal or family history of eye disease
  • Are African American or African heritage
  • Have had a serious eye injury in the past
  • Had eye surgery in the past
  • Are taking a corticosteroid medication
  • Have diabetes, high blood pressure, or other chronic illness

Cautionary Note: If you currently have eye symptoms, you should call your provider immediately for an evaluation. In case of an emergency, call for an ambulance immediately.


American Academy of Ophthalmology

Glaucoma Research Foundation

National Eye Institute

Last reviewed September 2003 by Marc Ellman, MD

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