Chennai: Glaucoma refers to a group of eye disorders. Most commonly occurs when the pressure inside the eyes (intraocular pressure or IOP) increases enough to damage the optic nerves though it may occur in some cases when the pressure is normal. As the optic nerves that are responsible for sending images to the brain are affected, it results in vision loss. If left untreated, glaucoma can result in permanent blindness.
Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness especially for people over the age of 60. There are about 80 million glaucoma patients in the world. In India, nearly 12 million are affected by glaucoma. But like in many developing countries, about 50-80% of glaucoma cases go undetected in India. Hence the numbers in the records do not reveal the real picture. However, in line with the global trends, the population of glaucoma patients in the country is expected to double by 2040.
Talking about the signs and symptoms of glaucoma, Dr. Soosan Jacob, Associate Chief – Clinical Services, Dr. Agarwals Eye Hospital, Chennai said that they vary depending on the type and stage of the condition. The first signs of glaucoma may be seeing halos or rainbow-colored circles around lights or having unusual sensitivity to light. Loss of peripheral or side vision is another common symptom. However, most people with glaucoma have no early warning signs. The effect is so gradual that people may not notice any change in vision until the condition progresses to an advanced stage. Hence, the only way to find out if glaucoma is to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam.
January is observed as Glaucoma Awareness Month worldwide. As part of it, Dr Agarwals Eye Hospital is conducting various awareness programs through its Pan-India network.
According to Dr. Soosan Jacob, Dr. Agarwals Eye Hospitals, the risk factors include the increasing prevalence of chronic conditions like:
· Cardiovascular diseases
· High blood pressure
· Family history
Those who are diabetic undergo treatments, for certain eye diseases, and those who use oral contraceptive pills for long periods are highly susceptible to glaucoma. But glaucoma can affect people of all age groups and even those who do not have any chronic conditions or family history. It is diagnosed even in children.
There are two major types of glaucoma: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. Ophthalmologists examine the angle between the cornea and iris and determine whether it is open-angle or angle-closure glaucoma. However, both these conditions have the characteristics of preventing eye fluid from draining out through tissue at the angle where the iris and cornea meet. As the fluid is not able to flow out at its normal rate, the pressure inside the eyes increases, and damages the optic nerves.
In general, glaucoma cannot be cured but it can be controlled. Eye drops, pills, laser procedures, and surgical operations are used to manage glaucoma conditions. Trabeculectomy, a type of glaucoma surgery performed on the eye to create a new pathway for fluid inside the eye to be drained, has been the main surgical procedure worldwide for several decades. Glaucoma patients need to go for regular follow-ups to detect progression and to prevent vision loss, proper usage of medication, and methods of administering drops. Even with regular treatment, about 15% of people with glaucoma become blind in at least one eye within twenty years.
Dr. Soosan Jacob added that millions of people do not have access to qualified eye specialists and eye hospitals in India. The lack of infrastructure and unequal distribution of eye care facilities in the country is a cause for concern. The country needs advanced centers in peripheral areas to enhance the reach of medical interventions and screening the high-risk population.
Increasing awareness of the risk factors and symptoms of glaucoma should be an important strategy to address the growing glaucoma challenge. People should do regular periodic eye checkups at least once a year. Whether there are any symptoms or not, people with diabetes and other diseases are advised to undergo eye checkups compulsorily once every 6 months.