Blindness is not inevitable, it’s avoidable. For 80 per cent of people with cataracts, glaucoma, age-related macular degeneration and diabetes-related blindness, early diagnosis and treatment can help overcome or even avoid these visual impairments.
This was the message conveyed by experts at a seminar held at Aga Khan University (AKU) to mark World Sight Day.
In developing countries, a cataract remains one of the leading causes of blindness for all age groups even though they are more common in older people. “When you get a cataract, the eye’s natural lens begins to cloud, leading to blurry vision, double vision or difficulty while driving at night,” says Dr Sharmeen Akram, Consultant Ophthalmologist, Aga Khan University Hospital (AKUH). A simple eye examination can help diagnose the disease, which is initially treated through glasses, brighter lighting and magnifying lenses while reading. Eventually when these do not help, surgery can resolve the problem – a short outpatient procedure where the natural lens is replaced with an artificial one. This treatment is widely available in the country.
Globally, glaucoma is another major cause of blindness. High pressure within the eye is thought to be one of the reasons for this group of diseases that leads to gradual vision loss. Sometimes, though, glaucoma may arise unexpectedly with a sudden onset of headaches, blurred vision and pain in the affected eye. Dr Rashid Baig, Consultant Ophthalmologist, AKUH says that “although there is no cure for glaucoma, early diagnosis, regular eye exams and treatment can control the progression of the disease.”
Speaking on paediatric eye problems, Dr Tanveer Chaudhry, Consultant Ophthalmologist and Head of Ophthalmology Section at AKUH, explained that in young children a squint might be a symptom of something more serious and should not be ignored.
He also highlighted the need for premature babies to be screened promptly for eye problems. Retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) is a potentially blinding eye disorder that affects premature infants. “At AKUH, we have a referral system for the screening of such children but we need to increase awareness in all health care providers and general public so the sight of children born early can be saved,” he says. A recent survey of leading maternity homes and hospitals across Karachi, well equipped to save very premature children, showed a lack of awareness of ROP and its management.
Rida Turabi, Senior Media Executive, Department of Public Affairs, Aga Khan University, Stadium Road, Karachi, on +92 21 3486 2931 or firstname.lastname@example.org