Taking precautions to ward off the silent thief of sight
This year marks the sixth World Glaucoma Week (March 9-15), a joint initiative between the World Glaucoma Association (WGA) and the World Glaucoma Patient Association (WGPA) aimed at expanding global awareness of glaucoma, otherwise known as the silent thief of sight.
Glaucoma is a degenerative eye condition that is generally caused by a build-up of pressure inside the eye. This increased pressure, called intraocular pressure, can damage the optic nerve which transmits images to the brain. If left untreated the damage to the optic nerve will continue and can cause permanent loss of vision.
“Glaucoma is a hereditary condition that usually only sets in later in life,” explains Peter Jordan, Principal Officer of Fedhealth. He points out that there are seldom early symptoms or pain from the increased pressure inside the eye, so it is important to see your eye doctor regularly so that glaucoma can be diagnosed and treated before long-term visual loss occurs.
“If you are over the age of 40 and have a family history of glaucoma, you should have a complete eye exam with an eye doctor every one to two years. If you have health problems such as diabetes or a family history of glaucoma or are at risk for other eye diseases, you may need to visit your eye doctor more frequently,” says Jordan.
Why Does Pressure Rise in the Eye to Cause Glaucoma?
Glaucoma usually occurs when pressure in your eye increases. This can happen when the eye fluid is not circulating normally in the front part of the eye.
Normally, this fluid, called aqueous humor, flows out of the eye through a mesh-like channel. If this channel becomes blocked, fluid builds up, causing glaucoma. The direct cause of this blockage is unknown, but doctors do know that it can be inherited, meaning it is passed from parents to children.
There are four main types of glaucoma:
Open angle glaucoma (chronic glaucoma): This is the most common type of glaucoma. It develops very slowly so you may not realise it is happening. Open angle glaucoma occurs when the drainage tubes (trabecular meshwork) within the eye become slightly blocked, preventing eye fluid (aqueous humour) from draining properly. The term ‘open angle’ refers to the angle of space between the iris (coloured part of the eye) and the sclera (the white outer covering of the eyeball). In other words there is no physical obstruction blocking the drainage, it is the tubes that have a blockage, hence open angle glaucoma.
Acute angle closure glaucoma (acute glaucoma): This rare form of glaucoma refers to a narrowing of the angle between the iris and sclera. The narrowing often happens quickly, causing a sudden and painful build-up of pressure in your eye.
Secondary glaucoma: Secondary glaucoma may occur as a result of an eye injury or another eye condition such as uveitis. Secondary glaucoma can be open angle or closed angle.
Developmental glaucoma: This form of glaucoma is caused by an abnormality of the eyeball. It is very rare and is usually present at birth or develops shortly after birth.
“Eye health is not something we should take for granted,” says Jordan. He adds that it is vital to go for treatment if you are diagnosed with glaucoma. Treatment for Glaucoma, which involves the use of eye drops or pills and sometimes (rarely) laser treatment or surgery, may not be able to reverse the nerve damage and visual loss caused by glaucoma, but it can control the disease by normalising the intraocular pressure and prevent or retard further nerve damage and loss of vision.
“Regular check-ups with your optometrist or eye doctor are important,” Jordan stresses, adding that taking preventative action against this disease is still the best defence.
Tips for maintaining good eye health
· Healthy eating will help your vision. Studies show that nutrients such as omega-3 fatty acids, lutein, zinc, and vitamins C and E may help ward off age-related vision. Buy eating green, leafy vegetables (spinach, kale, and collards), oily fish (salmon and tuna), non-meat protein sources (eggs, nuts and beans) and citrus fruits or juices regularly help good eye health.
“Eating a well-balanced diet also helps you maintain a healthy weight, which makes you less likely to get obesity-related diseases such as type 2 diabetes. Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in adults,” says Jordan.
- Smoking makes you more likely to get cataracts, optic nerve damage, and macular degeneration.
- Choose sunglasses that block 99% to 100% of both UVA and UVB rays. Too much UV exposure makes you more likely to get cataracts and macular degeneration so choose your sunglasses wisely so that they protect your eyes from the sun’s ultraviolet (UV) rays. It is a good idea to wear sunglasses if you wear contact lenses if your lenses offer UV protection.
- Make sure you wear safety glasses or protective goggles if you work with hazardous or airborne materials at work or home. Certain sports such as ice hockey or racquetball can also lead to eye injury. Wear eye protection like a helmet with a protective face mask or sports goggles with polycarbonate lenses to shield your eyes.
- Staring at a computer screen causes a lot of strain on your eyes. Symptoms such as blurry vision, difficulty focusing at a distance, dry eyes, headaches and neck, back, and shoulder pain can be relieved by taking the following steps:
- Make sure your glasses or contact lens prescription is up-to-date and adequate for computer use (some people may need glasses to help with contrast, glare, and eye strain when using a computer).
- Position your computer so that your eyes are level with the top of the monitor. This allows you to look slightly down at the screen.
- Try to avoid glare on your computer from windows and lights. Use an anti-glare screen if needed.
- Choose a comfortable, supportive chair. Position it so that your feet are flat on the floor.
- Make a point of blinking often and of looking up from your computer and resting your eyes on a distant object every half an hour for 30 seconds.