By Chioma Obinna
As the World marks this year’s World Glaucoma Week, a medical expert, Dr Abia Nzelu has said that despite the fact that vision is the most valuable of all human senses, every five seconds one person in the world goes blind even as she said that over 1 million blind adults live in Nigeria.
Disclosing this in a statement to mark the week in Lagos, Nzelu who also noted that a child goes blind every minute and that 4 out of 5 blind people are needlessly blind in developing countries like Nigeria, said these things happen because most people do not seek preventive eye care.
According to her, low vision and blindness affect not just the individual, but also families, and communities.
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“Globally, the life expectancy of blind persons is 1/3 less than that of their sighted counterparts and most of them die within 10 years of becoming blind. Sadly, 90 percent of blind people live in developing countries like Nigeria. In Africa, the poor and blind live 20 years less than those who are only poor and 60 percent of children die within 2 years of becoming blind. In Nigeria, there are currently over 1 million blind adults over 40 years of age.”
The most common cause of blindness globally is cataract while the uncorrected refractive error is the most common cause of visual impairment. Over one billion people who need eyeglasses worldwide lack access to glasses.
Whilst blindness from cataract is reversible via surgery, glaucoma is the number one cause of irreversible blindness.
She said: “A major problem of glaucoma is that Glaucomaics (people with Glaucoma) usually lose vision before they notice any problems with their eyes; hence it is nicknamed “the silent thief of vision.” Moreover, about 50 percent of all glaucoma cases are undiagnosed in developed countries, and as high as 90% of missed cases occur in developing countries.
She explained that the World Glaucoma Week (WGW) which is celebrated in the second week of March was designed to create awareness on this silent thief of vision.
This year (2020) WGW falls between the 8th of March, 2020 and the 14th of March, 2020. The main objective of this week is to eliminate glaucoma blindness by motivating people to have regular eye checks, including optic nerve examination.
“The main risk factors for the development of glaucoma include high intraocular (eye) pressure (although glaucoma can often develop with ‘normal’ intraocular pressure), increasing age, positive family history for glaucoma, ethnicity, short-sightedness, and far-sightedness. Glaucoma can affect any age group including newborn babies but is more common in older adults.
The most common type of Glaucomaalso occurs earlier and is more severe in blacks than in whites. Other risk factors for glaucoma include eye injury, certain types of an eye operation, long-term use of steroid medication, general health problems like diabetes mellitus, migraine, high blood pressure, and heart disease, among others.
“Most forms of glaucoma affect both eyes and do not have symptoms in their early stages. However, Glaucomaics (Glaucoma patients) may often complain of frequent change of glasses. If untreated, people with glaucoma will slowly lose their peripheral (side) vision but will not notice any change in their vision until the damage is very severe.
As glaucoma progresses, people may miss objects to the side and out of the corner of their eyes. They may seem to be looking through a tunnel and eventually, straight-ahead (central) vision may decrease until no vision remains.
However, in a less common type of glaucoma (known as acute angle-closure glaucoma), the following symptoms may occur severe headache, severe eye pain, nausea/vomiting, blurred vision or red eye. Glaucoma in newborns may also manifest with gradual cloudiness of one or both eyes which could be present at birth or develop later, abnormal enlargement of the eyeballs (known as bull’s eye or buphthalmos), as well as painful red and swollen eyes.
Although glaucoma may not be preventable and glaucoma blindness is irreversible, she recommended moderate regular exercise, brush and flossing of teeth every day and comprehensive eye screening every 4 years beginning at the age of 40 years, for those with no glaucoma risk factor; then every 2 years after age 65 to prevent the disease.
Other steps she listed include drug alertness, eating plenty of leafy green vegetables and coloured fruits, berries, and vegetables every day. Need to know your family’s eye health history among others.
She added that glaucoma can be treated using medications (eye drops or tablets), laser, conventional surgery or a combination of these and that the treatment and monitoring of glaucoma were life-long.
She, however, announced that Mass Medical Mission, through its PinkVISSION project would be offering free screening to mark the week.
The screening billed to hold at the on the 11th of March, 2020 and Friday, the 13th of March, 2020, at mass medical mission House, 31 Bode Thomas Street, Surulere, Lagos is designed to facilitate access to preventive eye services at the grassroots.
To access the free screening, she said: “Groups could also apply to be included as hosts in the schedule of the on-going free community-based outreaches (Mission PinkCruise), by sending an email to [email protected]”