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Glaucoma’s Impact on Reading Difficulty

Using a high-speed eye tracker, the gaze positions of a patient’s eyes are being recorded by Dr. Kwon while the patient is engaged in a reading task. This study is designed to examine abnormalities in patterns of binocular eye movements following glaucomatous damage and its impact on reading performance.
MiYoung Kwon, PhD, assistant professor in the UAB Department of Ophthalmology, has received her first R01 grant from the National Institutes of Health (NIH) to study the perceptual mechanisms responsible for reading difficulty in people with glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a group of eye disorders that have few symptoms in their early stages but eventually lead to damage of the optic nerve (the bundle of nerve fibers that carry information from the eye to the brain), which can then result in vision loss or complete blindness. Glaucoma affects more than 3 million people in the United States and is the leading cause of blindness in African-Americans. Globally, 60.5 million had glaucoma in 2010, but given the world’s aging population, this number may increase to 80 million by 2020.

“There is a viewpoint that glaucoma spares central vision because glaucoma develops slowly with the initial loss of peripheral (side) vision,” Dr. Kwon says. “However, studies show that individuals with glaucoma, even in the early stages of the disease, report reading problems as one of their main difficulties. Despite this clinical significance, to date, little attention has been paid to understanding how glaucomatous damage undermines central vision tasks, such as reading.”

Thanks to recent advances in retinal imaging technology, we now know that the macula, the central portion of the retina responsible for high-acuity vision, is significantly affected even in the early stages of glaucoma. Dr. Kwon’s research aims to investigate the functional impact of this macular damage, and the outcome should reveal the perceptual factors underlying reading difficulties and help guide clinicians in prescribing appropriate reading aids and rehabilitative strategies to glaucoma patients.