USC Eye Institute Gives Insight in Glaucoma

What is Glaucoma? 

January is Glaucoma Awareness Month and the University of Southern California (USC) Eye Institute is offering insight into the effects of glaucoma and today’s cutting-edge treatments.


According to a study by researchers at the USC Eye Institute published in 2012 more than 2.7 million people older than 40 living in the United States suffer from glaucoma, and that number will only continue to increase. The single largest demographic group is non-Hispanic white women. Those who lose vision from glaucoma cannot recover the sight they have lost. However, glaucoma is the leading cause of preventable blindness. That is why the USC Eye Institute and institutions from around the world are taking the month of January to recognize Glaucoma Awareness Month.


As a leader in ophthalmology, the ophthalmologists at the USC Eye Institute are dedicated to bringing the causes and effects of glaucoma to the forefront of public consciousness. Led by Rohit Varma, MD, MPH, Professor and Chair of the Department of Ophthalmology, Director of the USC Eye Institute, and a leading expert in the field of glaucoma, USC is continuing to make improve glaucoma care. Dr. Varma has brought awareness and improved treatments to the field of glaucoma for years, with his work leading to life-changing treatments that have been spotlighted in the media, including The Doctors.



There are two main types of glaucoma: primary open-angle glaucoma (POAG) and angle-closure glaucoma, both of which damage the optic nerve, leading to vision loss. Glaucoma-caused vision loss begins with the loss of peripheral vision. Most people suffering from glaucoma do not notice it until it has taken away a significant portion of their sight. Through regular eye exams, an eye doctor can detect glaucoma early and treat it. Early detection and treatment of glaucoma can prevent permanent vision loss and blindness. Additionally, while many doctors use the puff test to check for high eye pressure, this is a very poor test for detection of glaucoma. Dr. Varma recommends that direct examination of the optic nerve and testing the peripheral vision are the best tests for the early detection of glaucoma. Furthermore, he cautions that damage to the optic nerve can occur at seemingly “normal” eye pressure, therefore it is very important to examine the optic nerve for early damage.


Once glaucoma damage has been detected, then the single most effective way to treat it is the lower the eye pressure even if it may be in the “normal” range. This is usually done using eye drops or even a laser. However if both eye drops and laser are unable to lower the eye pressure, then surgery can be performed.


“We are currently working on novel intraocular drainage devices, intraocular pressure sensors as well as drug delivery systems that will improve quality of life as well as compliance of our patients,” said Dr. Alena Reznik, Assistant Professor of Ophthalmology at the USC Eye Institute. “The USC Eye Institute offers minimally invasive surgical techniques, such as iStent and endocyclophotocagulation, as well as conventional surgery such as trabeculectomy with anti-scarring agents and glaucoma drainage devices. In complicated cases, we are able to offer a multi speciality combined surgical approach that includes corneal and retinal intervention together with glaucoma surgery, decreasing recovery time for patients.”


At the USC Eye Institute, leading ophthalmologists have helped to create some of most advanced treatments for glaucoma ever made. These include a non-invasive imaging technique that can diagnose glaucoma early and the Baerveldt glaucoma implant, which is now the world’s most widely-used implant for glaucoma.


In addition, Dr. Varma and his team of researchers at the USC Ocular Epidemiology Center have conducted several groundbreaking community health-based studies, assessing the prevalence of glaucoma diseases amongst our diverse population. The US Centers for Medicare began providing a Glaucoma Screening benefit to Latinos aged 50 years and older based on data from the Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES), showing the high rate of glaucoma in the study. There have been a multitude of studies that have helped provide similar eye disease data.


If you have any reason to believe that you may have or may be at risk, please do get your eyes examined with an emphasis on assessing the optic nerve and peripheral vision. Persons who either have a family member with glaucoma, or if you are 50 years and older, should get a complete eye examination.



The USC Eye Institute, part of Keck Medicine of USC, is led by Rohit Varma, M.D., M.P.H., and has more than 20 full-time faculty physicians covering all subspecialties of ophthalmology. USC’s ophthalmology program has been ranked in the Top 10 by U.S. News & World Report for 20 years and is No. 3 in research funding from the National Eye Institute. The USC Eye Institute is headquartered near downtown Los Angeles and has satellite clinics in Pasadena, Beverly Hills and Arcadia. For more information, go to



Keck Medicine of USC is the University of Southern California’s medical enterprise, one of only two university-based medical systems in the Los Angeles area. Encompassing academic, research and clinical excellence, the medical system attracts internationally renowned experts who teach and practice at the Keck School of Medicine of USC, the region’s first medical school; includes the renowned USC Norris Comprehensive Cancer Center, one of the first comprehensive cancer centers established by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in the United States; has a medical faculty practice, the USC Care Medical Group; operates the Keck Medical Center of USC, which includes two acute care hospitals: 401-licensed bed Keck Hospital of USC and 60-licensed bed USC Norris Cancer Hospital; and owns USC Verdugo Hills Hospital, a 158-licensed bed community hospital. It also includes more than 40 outpatient facilities, some at affiliated hospitals, in Los Angeles, Orange, Kern, Tulare and Ventura counties.


U.S. News & World Report ranked Keck Medical Center of USC among the Top 10 in ophthalmology (No. 9), and among the Top 25 hospitals in the United States for urology (No. 20) and cancer care (No. 23). The medical center was also awarded an “A” grade from The Leapfrog Group in 2014, representing outstanding patient safety practices and overall patient outcomes.


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