Herbert Herbert

His Corneal Pits and Scleral Slits
  • Robert M. Feibel
    Correspondence: Robert M. Feibel, MD, 660 S. Euclid Avenue, Campus Box 8096, Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, MO 63110.
    Department of Ophthalmology and Visual Sciences, Washington University School of Medicine, St. Louis, Missouri
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Published:January 13, 2014DOI:


      To evaluate the life and professional work of the English ophthalmologist Herbert Herbert (1865–1942).


      Historical study.


      The main sources for this investigation are Herbert's approximately 65 published papers and 3 monographs. Other sources are contemporary publications by other ophthalmologists and secondary historical reviews of this period. Written communications with some of Herbert's descendants revealed previously unknown information about his life.


      Herbert is now remembered for his description of the eponymously named limbal corneal pits as a sign of trachoma. This finding is essentially pathognomic of trachoma and was welcomed as a sign that could reliably diagnose trachoma from other external diseases. He also described the sinuous outline of the upper lid margin, sometimes called Herbert's sign, as a diagnostic finding of trachomatous infection. His diagnostic acumen in the field of trachoma has justly stood the test of time. However, his interest in trachoma was peripheral to his main professional work, which was the study of glaucoma filtration surgery, then in its early development from 1900 to 1920. He was among the major pioneers in the development of original techniques for this surgery. He emphasized the use of small incision sclerotomy to produce an even and diffuse filtration bleb, rather than the large incision sclerectomy proposed by other surgeons, which he felt produced too large and thin a filtering bleb subject to complications. This point has also stood the test of time. However, he erred in developing and championing the use of deliberate iris inclusion into the filtering sclerotomy (iridencleisis) to prevent closure of the sclerotomy, a technique that was questioned at that time and eventually discredited. The iris-free procedure of corneoscleral trephination developed by his contemporary Robert H. Elliot became the preferred glaucoma filtering procedure until the introduction of peripheral iridectomy with scleral cautery (thermal sclerostomy) in the 1950s and then trabeculectomy in the 1970s.


      Herbert should be remembered as an astute and original observer and as an innovative surgeon who developed some of the pioneering techniques in glaucoma filtering surgery.
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