Glaucoma is often referred to as the ‘silent thief of sight’ because the gradual loss of vision it afflicts mostly manifests itself when it is too late. Glaucoma is a menace that may lead to a permanent loss of eyesight, and a person may not even know when the symptoms actually began.
According to statistics of the World Health Organization, the prevalence of glaucoma in India is 2.6 per cent. But a lack of awareness about its silent threat and the need to guard against it often means the disease goes undiagnosed and hence untreated.
Regular and thorough check-up of the eyes is the only way to sight signs of the disease early and control it in time. As the World Glaucoma Week is observed internationally from March 10 to 16th this year, raising awareness about the need to keep a regular a tab on the condition of your eyes is a top priority.
While in some people, the disease shows with symptoms like redness in eyes, pain and blurry vision, appearance of halos around lights, nausea and vomiting, the more common variety of glaucoma is the silent type in which the patient is totally asymptomatic and is even unaware of his gradual loss of vision. He or she becomes aware only in the late stages by which time it may be too late.
Dr Sathi Devi, glaucoma specialist, said “Vision lost due to glaucoma cannot be regained back. Hence it is of paramount importance to have your eyes checked annually even if you think your vision is good and you have no eye complaints. People over the age of 40, those suffering from diabetes, migraine, who frequently change their spectacles, who have high minus numbers, use steroids too often and most importantly those who have a family history of Glaucoma, are generally at a higher risk of contracting this disease.”
She further added that Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases characterised by damage to the optic nerve. A healthy eye produces a fluid, called aqueous humor, at the same rate at which it drains. High pressure occurs when the drainage system is blocked and the fluid cannot exit at a normal rate. Unlike a ball or a balloon, the eye cannot relieve pressure by springing a leak and “deflating” when pressure is too high.
The high eye pressure instead keeps building and pushing against the optic nerve which is responsible for vision. The extreme pressure can permanently damage the nerve fibers leading to loss of vision.
Since few glaucoma patients experience its symptoms from the beginning, early detection of the disease is generally difficult and the only way to prevent this blinding disease is a regular and thorough check-up of the eyes. Besides a regular eye check-up for vision, what a person needs to get done is a comprehensive eye examination as well.
The comprehensive eye test includes a vision check, a slit lamp examination including an examination of the angle (drainage channel), an IOP (Intraocular pressure) check and optic disc evaluation. All these indicators help doctors determine the condition of the eye.
The doctor says Glaucoma once detected can be stopped from worsening further but reversing it is impossible. Even if you haven’t reached the age of 40, a regular eye check including test for Glaucoma is advisable.
Since reversing the disease is not possible, one should not wait for these symptoms to crop up to get a check-up done. Small efforts like getting a thorough check-up done every time you change your spectacles can make a big difference in early detection of the disease and save you from its catastrophic effects. If detected at an early stage, laser and eye drops work well in preventing the disease from progressing. What is important to note is that these medications are to be instilled life long, as they do not cure the disease, just prevent it. Patients at an advanced stage of the disease will often need surgical treatment.