By Dr Jennifer Abo-Briggs
Emeka is a 32 year old banker married with two children. He had perfect eyesight, at least so he thought, until last month when he went for a pre-employment health examination where he was told by the ophthalmologist (eye specialist) that he had glaucoma which was quite advanced in his right eye. He would need surgery to preserve his vision.
Iya Ayo listened as the children in the compound played. They sang a popular Christian song
‘My eyes have seen, my ears have heard….’ She thought to herself ‘my eyes’. Hmmm, she was blind in both eyes. She was diagnosed with glaucoma four years ago but did not adhere to treatment. Now her vision is gone and her doctors say nothing can be done to restore it.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye condition that causes permanent loss of vision. It is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in Nigeria and all over the world. An estimated 76 million people worldwide suffer from glaucoma. In Nigeria, nineteen out of twenty people with glaucoma do not know they have the condition. Furthermore, one in every five people with glaucoma is blind. Glaucoma occurs as a result of damage from elevated pressure in the eye. When the pressure in the eye (intraocular pressure) is higher than normal, it slowly damages the optic nerve which is responsible for vision. The damage to the optic nerve from glaucoma is permanent and can progress to blindness if it is not detected and treated early.
Who can have glaucoma?
Glaucoma can affect people of all age groups: the young, the old and even babies. It is however more common in people above 40 years of age.
The risk factors for glaucoma include older age, people of African descent, having a family member with glaucoma and previous eye injury or surgery.
What are the symptoms of glaucoma?
In the early stages, glaucoma usually has no symptoms. This is mainly because it damages the peripheral (side) vision first, so an affected person may not know as they may be able to still see things in front of them clearly. This is why it is called the ‘silent thief of sight’. As the disease progresses, other symptoms may be noticed such as reduction in vision, bumping into
objects and seeing haloes (colours) around light.
In a certain type of glaucoma called angle closure glaucoma, affected persons may experience severe eye pain, redness and decreased vision. Babies with glaucoma (congenital glaucoma) have symptoms which include excessive
tearing, aversion to light and an enlarged eye. Babies exhibiting such symptoms must be promptly brought to an Ophthalmologist for an eye check.
How is glaucoma diagnosed and treated?
A person with glaucoma should be evaluated by an ophthalmologist. This would involve a thorough eye examination and some tests to determine the type and severity of glaucoma. Many people who are diagnosed with glaucoma in Nigeria already have advanced disease or
are blind at the time they present to the hospital.
Glaucoma can be treated with medications (eye drops or tablets), laser or surgery. The main aim of treatment is to reduce the eye pressure and to slow down the disease progression as much as possible. The mode of treatment depends on a number of factors which the doctor would discuss with the patient.
It is important to note that treatment is lifelong and strict adherence to treatment is key in preserving vision. Any vision that has been lost from glaucoma cannot be regained. However,
with compliance to treatment, further vision loss can be prevented.
What should you do if you are diagnosed with glaucoma?
The most important thing is adherence to your treatment plan. Your Ophthalmologist will schedule you for routine clinic visits where your eyes would be examined and adjustments
made to your medications if necessary. You may also be advised to have surgery or laser treatment.
Screening of family members of affected people, especially their children and siblings is also important as glaucoma has been shown to run in families.
A diagnosis of glaucoma is not a death sentence as it can be successfully managed with good collaboration between the patient and the doctor.
Glaucoma is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and can affect all age groups.
Early detection and adherence to treatment can prevent total loss of vision. If you have never had a comprehensive eye exam, now is a good time to do so.
With Glaucoma, a stitch in time definitely saves nine Let’s beat invisible glaucoma.
The world is bright, save your sight!
Get your eyes checked by an ophthalmologist today!
By Dr Jennifer Abo-Briggs
Young Ophthalmologists Forum, Nigeria