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Eye diseases, blindness can be prevented by regular checks — Experts

By Paul Adunwoke
13 October 2019   |   2:50 am
The need to go for regular eye checkup to prevent blindness has again been highlighted, as the World Sight Day was observed on 0ctober 11.Dr. Olubanke Ilo...

The need to go for regular eye checkup to prevent blindness has again been highlighted, as the World Sight Day was observed on 0ctober 11.Dr. Olubanke Ilo, a consultant ophthalmologist and lecturer at Lagos University Teaching Hospital (LUTH)/College of Medicine, University of Lagos, said though glaucoma, commonly referred to as the ‘thief of sight,’ is a major cause of blindness, when detected early and properly treated, does not lead to blindness.

She said: “People should go for regular eye checkup at least once in a year for early presentation and treatment of eye diseases that can lead to irreversible blindness. “Glaucoma is a serious eye condition and the common cause of irreversible blindness in the world. But it can be prevented, if identified and presented early for treatment.

“The illness damages the optic nerve, which carries information from the eyes to the visual centre in the brain. This damage can result in permanent vision loss.”She explained that, as windows to the soul, the eye is the most valuable sense organ, which gives information about the environment at great speed and over greater distances than other senses can ever do. And this is the more reason the eyes should be well taken care of.

“Though it is a small organ, the eye is mighty indeed. Without eyes, we would be in a sea of darkness. Therefore, eye care is very important. An annual eye check is a good place to start, if we truly want to take proper care of our eyes,” she said.

The annual eye checkup, she said, is aimed at identifying and preventing blindness from eye diseases, especially glaucoma.
She said: “Every five seconds, someone becomes blind in the world, and every 60 seconds, a child is rendered blind. Of the 1.2 million people living in Nigeria with blindness, 80 per cent are blind as a result of avoidable causes and eye problems, which could have been prevented if identified early, and treated.

“Glaucoma damages the optic nerve, which can result in permanent loss of vision. It is the leading cause of irreversible blindness in the world. And whilst there is no cure, blindness can be prevented, once identified early and proper treatment started. 

“Anyone can have glaucoma, regardless of sex and age. Some children are born with it, which is known as congenital glaucoma. Other children develop it as they grow, which is called developmental glaucoma.

“In most cases, glaucoma is caused by high pressure inside the eye (intraocular pressure). Other risk factors include having a family history of glaucoma/blindness, advancing age (40 years and above), being myopic or using such drugs as steroids.

“Glaucoma has no early warning signs and can only be detected during a comprehensive eye test. If undetected and untreated, glaucoma first causes loss of peripheral vision, which eventually leads to blindness. Though the lost vision cannot be restored, further progression can be stopped with proper treatment. Treatment options range from glaucoma eye drops, to laser therapy and surgical intervention.”

Noting that many Nigerians routinely opt for traditional medication, Ilo said this practice is especially dangerous for the eye. She said: “We hear reports and see the effects of people applying all sorts of substances to the eye. Such things as human and animal urine, breast milk, sugar and salt are just a part of the long list of “remedies” we come across. Often, the use of these things leads to irreversible blindness and may cause other complications, such as infection and sepsis.”

She disclosed that the habit of sharing prescription glasses is another surprisingly common, yet quite unhelpful practice that many people adopt.“Prescriptions for glasses are highly specific and often, the same person requires different lens prescription for each eye. Using the wrong lens can lead to further eye problems, headaches and even disorientation.

“People should stop patronising quack eye doctors or buying drugs over the counter. Rather, they should visit eye specialists for proper eye tests. Of all Nigerians currently living with blindness, we estimate that roughly 80 per cent of them would still be able to see, if they had gone to a hospital instead of remaining at home or using traditional remedies.

“Contrary to commonly-held beliefs, many of the drugs and spectacles that can prevent blindness are not expensive. And even if they were, they would be worth it because if a picture is worth a thousand words, how much is your vision worth?”
Dr. Opeyemi Odedere, a Child Health and Immunusation Specialist with Save the Children International (SCI), explained that consuming balanced and nutritious foods that helps to prevent eye defect.

He said: “Certain nutrients are known to be protective of the eyes. These include vitamins, especially Vitamin C. Such fruits as oranges and mangoes, among others, are essential for good eyes. Vegetables, such as spinach and others also contribute to healthy eyes. Soybean and certain fish like salmon are good sources of Omega 3, which is good for the eyes.”He said regular check of the eyes among children would help to know the health status of their eyes.

He said: “Wearing eyeglasses when in extreme sunlight prevents penetration of ultraviolet radiation of the sun. Excessive ultraviolet radiation on the skin can cause skin cancer and since the skin around the eyes are sensitive, they are vulnerable and can become cancerous as a result of excessive exposure to ultraviolet radiation.

“People should also stop smoking, as this prevents blindness in parent, newborn and child. Untreated diabetes also causes blindness. He listed other causes of blindness to include cataract, macula degeneration and retinitis pigmentosa.

“Cataract occurs when the eye lens become cloudy, obscured and prevents light from entering, leading to blurred vision,” he explained. “It is usually due to age. It usually grows with age and could cause blindness, if not well managed, but is treatable.

“Macula degeneration also occurs with age. It occurs as a result of macula degeneration leading to unclear vision. The macula is part of the retina responsible for vision.

“Diabetic retinopathy is one of many health problems caused by diabetes. It leads to leaking or swelling of small blood vessels that supply the retina, and it causes cloudy vision and may cause blindness.“Retinitis pigmentosa results in gradual loss of ability to see very well in low light condition. It occurs as result of gradual loss or degeneration of certain cells on the retina called rods.”

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