To assess the temporal relationship between field and disc change in early glaucoma, 24 patients with unilateral visual field loss from primary open angle glaucoma were identified for planimetric optic disc measurements. Cross-sectional analysis of disc rim area was performed and compared to 25 age-matched normal controls. The mean (+/- SD) disc rim area in eyes with normal visual fields (1.10 +/- 0.31 mm2) was slightly larger than that of eyes with visual field loss (0.90 +/- 0.33 mm2). The mean disc rim area in the control group (1.49 +/- 0.19 mm2) was significantly different from both sets of eyes in the asymmetric primary open angle glaucoma patients (p = 0.000). These findings support the hypothesis that loss of the optic disc rim can be detected before perimetric abnormalities develop in patients with glaucoma.