By Dr. Hazel Shillingford-Ricketts
World Glaucoma Week is observed March 12-18, 2017
Beat Invisible Glaucoma: B.I.G.
This is an opportunity to educate the public and raise their awareness about Glaucoma, the leading cause of irreversible blindness in most countries including Dominica.
Glaucoma is defined as progressive optic nerve damage associated with characteristic progressive loss of visual field.
As the head of the optic nerve called the optic disc is damaged, the peripheral field of
vision is loss. At first the patient is not aware of this loss of vision but as the loss increases they realize they are not seeing as well, especially when they are moving around. They bounce into walls and furniture. Their vision is worse at night especially when the lights are dim.
The optic nerve is located behind the eye and connects it to the brain. The optic nerve transmits the visual information from the eye to the brain.
Glaucoma is a chronic, non-communicable disease. It is not one but a group of eye diseases. The most common type of glaucoma is primary open angle glaucoma.
This type of glaucoma is a silent thief of sight or invisible disease. About half of the people with primary open angle glaucoma do not know they are affected. Most people are diagnosed when they visit the eye doctor for an eye examination. There are still too many Dominicans being diagnosed when this disease is advance with significant loss of vision which is irreversible.
The prevalence of persons with glaucoma increases with age. Black race is most affected. A family history of glaucoma, elevated eye pressure, eye trauma, chronic use of steroids medications in all its forms, myopia or near-sightedness, hypertension, diabetes mellitus and thin central cornea thickness are other risk factors for developing glaucoma.
Untreated glaucoma can cause irreversible blindness however most people with glaucoma are not blind
Blindness is associated with adverse implications for health and well-being:
• Reduced quality of life
• Functional and cognitive decline
• Work and academic underperformance
• Anxiety, depression
• Inability to drive
• Reduced social interaction
• Increased frequency of falls and fractures
• Loss of independence leading to nursing home admission
• Higher risk of early mortality
HOW TO BEAT INVISIBLE GLAUCOMA
1. Knowledge: Glaucoma week; individual education
2. Regular Eye Examination
3. Adherence to treatment
Relatives should assist patients diagnosed with glaucoma: helping to pay for the medications, putting the eyedrops for them if this poses a challenge physically for the patients, reminding them of their appointments and providing transportation for their follow-up eye visits.
• There are various eye examinations and investigations performed by the eye specialist to diagnose and monitor for progression of glaucoma.
• Glaucoma cannot be cured but it can be controlled by lowering the intraocular or eye pressure using eyedrops, pills, laser or eye surgery.
• Persons 40 years and older should have regular eye examinations every 2 years
• Patient with risk factors for secondary glaucoma should have annual eye examinations or as determined by their eye specialists.
• Glaucoma patients must use their eye medications as prescribed and keep their follow-up appointments with their eye specialists.
• Glaucoma patients should inform their relatives that they have glaucoma and that the relatives are at increased risk of having glaucoma.
• Relatives of glaucoma patients should have eye examinations every year from the age of 35
• All eyedrops for glaucoma treatment should be free and available in all health districts as obtains for the other chronic, non-communicable diseases like hypertension and diabetes mellitus.
We must not wait for the glaucoma patients to get blind because they cannot afford treatment, lose their independence and then enroll them in services where persons are paid to look after them.
CAN WE BEAT INVISIBLE GLAUCOMA? YES WE CAN!