As Nigeria joins the rest of the world to mark this year’s World Glaucoma Week, experts have enjoined members of the public to go for regular eye checkup.
They said early detection is key to preventing blindness as a result of glaucoma.
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Glaucoma is the most common cause of avoidable and irreversible blindness. The theme of this year’s commemoration is ‘World is Bright, Save Your Sight.’
According to Dr Ugochukwu A Eze, an ophthalmologist, and public health specialist at the Federal Medical Centre, Asaba, Delta State, glaucoma is a group of degenerative eye diseases characterised by progressive loss of vision and occurs in a particular pattern.
He said,“It is usually associated with increased pressure within the eyes. It is also called the silent thief of sight.”
Dr Eze, who is also the current chairman of the Young Ophthalmologists Forum of the Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria, said glaucoma is the second most common cause of blindness in Nigeria, and globally.
“The National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey reported a prevalence of 5.02 percent. This suggests that about five out of every 100 or 1 in every 20 Nigerians above 40 years have glaucoma.
“The same study at the time indicated that about 1.4 million people have glaucoma, and the majority of these people are not aware they have the disease,” said Dr Eze who is also a low vision practitioner.
He said the causes of glaucoma are broadly classified into primary and secondary glaucoma.
He said, “Primary means that the causes are not known and secondary shows that there are obvious known causes. They are both subdivided into open and closed angle glaucoma.
“Primary open angle glaucoma is the most common type of glaucoma. Most times glaucoma is mentioned in public; this is the glaucoma being referred to. The process begins gradually, due to poor drainage of the fluid that circulates and maintains the function of the eye. This leads to a buildup pressure that leads to damage to the optic nerve (which serves as a connection between the eye and the brain).
“This type of glaucoma is painless and causes no vision changes initially,”
The ophthalmologist said risk factors that increase the likelihood of developing glaucoma include:
-Age greater than 40 years
-African, Hispanic, or Asian heritage – usually glaucoma runs a more aggressive course in the progression to blindness than people of other races.
-High eye pressure
Near or far sightedness
-History of eye injury and some eye surgeries
-Long-term and indiscriminate use of steroid medications
-Thin corneas (the transparent structure in the front of the eye) that are thin in the centre
-Some diseases like diabetes, migraines, high blood pressure, and poor blood circulation
The expert said it is practically difficult to prevent development of glaucoma in people at risk, aside from the few secondary glaucomas which can be prevented by treating the causes.
“The key to blindness prevention in glaucoma is early detection .This can only be achieved by periodic and regular eye examination especially for people at risk. It is recommended that people at risk should have a comprehensive eye examination annually,” he said.
The successful treatment of glaucoma revolves round proper control of intraocular pressure (eye pressure), and can also be by use of anti-glaucoma medications, special lasers, and surgery.
He said, “Each of these treatments is targeted at keeping the eye pressure at a low enough level to minimise the rate of destruction of the optic nerve cells.
“Treatment is individualised and should be instituted by an ophthalmologist who assesses each patient on its own merit before commencement of treatment.
“At this point it is important to note that glaucoma is treatable but not curable. All these details will be provided by the certified eye care professional.”
Dr Eze added that the Young Ophthalmologists Forum of the Ophthalmological Society of Nigeria in collaboration with World Glaucoma Association is creating glaucoma awareness through several activities to sensitise the populace on the disease.
“As we continue to provide glaucoma-related information to the public, we advocate regular eye examination especially for people at risk.
“In our case, irrespective of every other risk, every ‘black’ person is at risk of glaucoma, and it is only prudent that we incorporate comprehensive eye examination as part of regular annual medical check. Everyone is a stakeholder who can share the message of comprehensive eye examination,” he advised.