Regular eye exams recommended for difficult-to-detect eye disease known as the ‘silent thief of sight’

Known as the “silent thief of sight”, glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide that affects nearly 800,000 Canadians today. Yet, according to a national survey by the Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS), in partnership with the Canadian Association of Optometrists, less than half (47 per cent) of Canadians are familiar with glaucoma, with this number decreasing to 37 per cent for younger Canadians aged 18-34. For Glaucoma Awareness Month the COS is reminding Canadians of the importance of regular comprehensive eye exams, as it’s the only way to detect this eye disease and prevent permanent vision loss.

“While there are several conditions that can lead to vision loss, none are as dangerously subtle as glaucoma,” says Dr. Phil Hooper, President of the Canadian Ophthalmological Society. “Damage to the eye from this disease often develops slowly over long periods of time with few symptoms and the damage which is done is irreversible. While there is no cure for glaucoma at this time, medication and surgery can help you live with the disease and slow its progress.”

While optometrists can diagnose and often treat some types of glaucoma, patients are referred to an ophthalmologist if they’re diagnosed at an advanced stage or if the patient’s condition is progressing at a rapid rate. For instance, Virginia Gray, a 68-year-old glaucoma patient, noticed changes to her vision and was unable to get a definitive diagnosis after several years. This led to a referral to an ophthalmologist, Dr. Briar Sexton, a member of the COS. During the appointment, Dr. Sexton performed a visual field test, an instrument that tests a patient’s peripheral vision by getting them to press a button whenever they see a flashing light.

“Given that my glaucoma wasn’t associated with elevated eye pressure, it was difficult for an eye care professional to diagnose me,” says Virginia Gray, a glaucoma patient of Dr. Sexton. “Once an optometrist referred me to my ophthalmologist, Dr. Sexton, she was able to determine the best course of treatment, which significantly halted the progress of my optic nerve damage.”

Blinding diseases affect older adults (55+) at much higher rates and as Canada’s population ages, the number of individuals affected by vision impairment will rise. That’s why the Canadian Ophthalmological Society, along with several other eye care associations, is advocating for a Vision Health Desk at the Public Health Agency of Canada. This national initiative will support eye health and work with provinces and territories on strategies for eye health, vision care, and the full integration of post-vision loss rehabilitation therapy into the healthcare continuum.

“My advice to Canadians, if you have any concerns about changes to your vision, especially if over the age of 50, it’s important to communicate with a healthcare provider so that they can determine if an ophthalmologist intervention is the best course of action,” continues Gray. “You’re never too young to start caring for your eyes, so it’s important to take action now by educating yourself about this disease and familiarizing yourself with its diagnosis and treatment.”

Glaucoma is a disease of the optic nerve, which transmits the images you see from the eye to the brain and is made up of many nerve fibres. These nerve fibres become damaged which can cause blind spots and vision loss. During a glaucoma evaluation, you may have the following tests done by your eye care team:

  • Tonometry to test eye pressure
  • Gonioscopy to determine the anatomy of the area that fluid leaves the eye
  • Ophthalmoscopy to assess optic nerve appearance
  • Visual field test to assess peripheral vision
  • Optical coherence tomography to assess the thickness of the retina and optic nerve

To learn more about the risk factors, diagnosis and treatment of glaucoma, visit

About Canadian Ophthalmological Society

The Canadian Ophthalmological Society (COS) is the national, recognized authority on eye and vision care in Canada. As eye physicians and surgeons, we are committed to assuring the provision of optimal medical and surgical eye care for all Canadians by promoting excellence in ophthalmology and by providing services to support our members in practice. Our membership includes over 900 ophthalmologists and 200 ophthalmology residents. We work collaboratively with government, other national and international specialty societies, our academic communities (ACUPO), our provincial partners and affiliates and other eye care professionals and patient groups to advocate for health policy in Canada in the area of eye and vision health. The COS is an accredited, award-winning provider of Continuing Professional Development (CPD) through the Royal College of Physicians and Surgeons of Canada (RCPSC) and is an affiliate of the Canadian Medical Association (CMA). For more information, visit