How to prevent sudden blindness from glaucoma —Ophthalmologists

Eye care specialists have urged Nigerians, especially those with a family history of glaucoma to go for periodic eye checks to prevent sudden and irreversible blindness from the eye condition.

The ophthalmologists say while there is no known cause of glaucoma often referred to as sudden blindness, those with a family history of the eye condition and persons living with certain non-communicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes mellitus are more at risk of it and should therefore embrace regular eye checks.

Speaking with our correspondent, the experts, Consultant Ophthalmologist at the Federal Medical Centre Abuja, Dr. Sewuese Bitto, and an Ophthalmologist at Cataract, and Glaucoma Services Unit, Irrua Specialist Teaching Hospital, Dr. Osamudiamen Cyril Obasuyi said that the public needed to have a better understanding of glaucoma to prevent sudden blindness.

Speaking with PUNCH HealthWise, Dr. Bitto said that glaucoma puts enormous pressure on the eyes.

She said, “There is no specified cause of glaucoma. However, there are some factors that we refer to as risk factors because they are linked to an increased chance of getting glaucoma when they are present. 

“Race is one such factor as being black compared to being white puts one at an increased risk of having glaucoma. Being above the age of 40 years also increases one’s chance of having glaucoma. Elevated pressure in the eye is another risk factor. The higher the eye pressure, the higher the chance of ending up with glaucoma.

“However, the presence of a first-degree relative who has glaucoma, especially a direct family relative heightens the chance of getting glaucoma.” She stressed those who have such relations should embrace regular eye checks.

Regular eye examinations, she added will help ensure the early detection of glaucoma and its proper management to avert the irreversible blindness that it often causes.

Such early eye checks, she said, can help persons to be aware that they even have a thin cornea (the glassy structure in front of the brown part of the eyes in black people), adding that thin corneas make people underestimate the actual eye pressure which may be much higher and increase the risk of glaucoma.

Other non-communicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes mellitus are also risk factors for glaucoma, she said.

She, however, stressed that glaucoma is more common in adults and affects children less.

“Glaucoma is less common in children compared to adults. However, few cases occur in children. A baby can be born with glaucoma in which case, we call it congenital glaucoma. When it occurs between one and three years, we call it infantile glaucoma and when it occurs in children aged above three years to adults less than 40 it’s termed juvenile glaucoma.

“Congenital glaucoma occurs primarily without any other disease in the eye and mainly occurs sporadically. However, risk factors still include a positive family history or a baby being a product of consanguinity (The characteristic of having a kinship with another person),” she said. 

The eye care expert, however, stressed that there is no cure for glaucoma diagnosed in a child or an adult. 

“The most important take-home message is for our people to engage in periodic eye checks, preferably, once a year is great. This is because glaucoma often has no symptoms until it has stolen one’s vision, causing irreversible blindness,” she said.

Also speaking with our correspondent, Dr. Obasuyi reiterated Dr. Bitto’s position that glaucoma has no known cause and that those with a family history of the condition should be more alert to detecting it early through regular eye checks.

He said, “Glaucoma is a disease affecting the optic nerve which is the nerve responsible for carrying visual signals to the brain. 

“Glaucoma causes characteristic changes in the visual fields by making people unable to see their sides clearly without turning their heads.

“There is no known cause of Glaucoma. But there are risk factors: These include a family history of glaucoma, diabetes, hypertension, and migraine, amongst others”.

 He also affirmed that glaucoma is not common in children.

“Thankfully, the prevalence in children is rare. It is about one in 10,000 people,” he said.

He equally stressed that the eye condition has no cure but can be properly managed, especially when detected early.

“A ‘cure’ for glaucoma is not the right word, but it can be treated if it is caught early. When it is detected early, there’s hope for reversing the damage,” he said.

According to a study published online by Mayo Clinic – a medical center focused on integrated health care, education, and research, glaucoma is a major cause of blindness. 

The study which focussed on identifying reasons for variations in eye pressure response to glaucoma drugs between individuals also added that current trial-and-error approaches to glaucoma management are inefficient, adding that the long-term goal of clinical studies on glaucoma should be how to improve treatment outcomes by identifying biomarkers and environmental factors that profile a patient at risk for glaucoma by age-of-onset, rate of disease progression, “poor response” to treatment, and large intraocular pressure (IOP) fluctuation.


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