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News | Jan. 23, 2024

Walter Reed Eye Institute Champions National Glaucoma Awareness Month

By James Black, WRNMMC, Office of Command Communications

A New Year’s Resolution for All: Protect Your Eyesight with Regular Eye Exams

Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness, potentially affecting over three million Americans and 80 million people worldwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

As part of National Glaucoma Awareness Month, each January, the Walter Reed Eye Institute (WREI) joins stakeholders in a global 30-day campaign to encourage everyone over 40 to have annual eye exams.

“We are fortunate to have excellent tools to diagnose glaucoma,” shared U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Rachel A. Lieberman, the vision program director for the National Capital Consortium (NCC).

Walter Reed continually upgrades its equipment to protect the vision of military families. “Some new acquisitions include a laser for treating glaucoma, and a laser for performing [laser-assisted in situ keratomileusis] LASIK and other types of refractive surgery,” explained Lieberman, who is a medical doctor specializing in ophthalmology, licensed to both treat eye diseases and perform eye surgeries.

What Is Glaucoma

Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that gradually steal sight without warning. Although the most common forms primarily affect the middle-aged and the elderly, glaucoma can affect people of all ages, according to the CDC.

Vision loss is caused by damage to the optic nerve. This nerve acts like an electric cable with over a million wires. It is responsible for carrying images from the eye to the brain.

According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), glaucoma has no cure. However, medication or surgery can slow or prevent further vision loss. The appropriate treatment depends upon the type of glaucoma, among other factors. Early detection is vital to stopping the progress of the disease.

Types of Glaucoma

NIH has identified two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and angle-closure glaucoma. These are marked by increased intraocular pressure (IOP) or pressure inside the eye. This is called normal-tension glaucoma, when optic nerve damage has occurred despite a normal IOP.

Secondary glaucoma is any case in which another disease causes or contributes to increased eye pressure, resulting in optic nerve damage and vision loss.

Glaucoma Risk Factors

According to the CDC, anyone can get glaucoma, but certain groups are at higher risk. These groups include African Americans over age 40, all people over age 60, people with a family history of glaucoma, and people who have diabetes. African Americans are six to eight times more likely to get glaucoma than whites. People with diabetes are two times more likely to get glaucoma than people without diabetes.


One of the main challenges of glaucoma is that there are usually no symptoms in the early stages, which is why it’s so important to have regular eye exams by an eye doctor, according to the CDC.

An eye doctor may perform the following tests as part of a comprehensive dilated eye exam during a glaucoma evaluation:

• Measure visual acuity
• Measure intraocular pressure
• Inspect the eye’s drainage angle
• Inspect the optic nerve
• Test your peripheral (side) vision
• Take a picture or computer measurement of the optic nerve
• Measure cornea thickness

The Real Burden of Glaucoma

Even before people progress to the point of blindness, vision loss affects them in multiple ways because the brain adapts and compensates for some vision loss.

Vision loss or impairment may be associated with reduced quality of life and decreased ability to perform activities of daily living, including loss of independence, restricted mobility, depression, and anxiety, according to the CDC.

Thus, it’s not surprising that:

• People with glaucoma have a 3X more significant risk of falls.
• People with glaucoma are at 6X more substantial risk of automobile accidents.

Preserving Sight for the Community Through Public Service

Many of our physicians volunteer their free time aiding medical clinics shared Lieberman – who credits her mentors with imbuing her with a sense of public service.

“I’ve been fortunate to have multiple mentors throughout my career,” recalled Lieberman, who credits U.S. Air Force Col. Rand Morris, who led the ROTC detachment at the University of California, Berkeley, for encouraging her to join the service.

Lieberman, like her WREI predecessor, retired U.S. Army Col. (Dr.) Won I. Kim believes in the value of “paying it forward.” Kim continues to mentor WREI stakeholders, providing insight “on everything from surgical technique to resident education,” confided Lieberman.

“The San Antonio Military Medical Center faculty helped me develop as an ophthalmology resident after medical school, especially U.S. Army Col. Anthony (Tony) Johnson,” shared Liberman. “He had a tremendous impact on my surgical skills, especially related to scleral lens fixation surgical technique, and in developing a humanistic approach to patients.”

To learn more about Walter Reed’s vision services or glaucoma, visit the below links:
Don't forget to keep your family's information up-to-date in DEERS.