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Anybody is at risk of blindness from glaucoma

<span style="font-family: helvetica;">Glaucoma is an eye disease that causes progressive irreversible damage of the optic nerve and loss of vision field leading to blindness. Anybody is at risk of this disease which is the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and in Kenya with over 20, 000 cases being reported every year.</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><span style="font-family: helvetica;">With the exception of babies born with congenital glaucoma, there is usually no warning, or obvious symptoms of the disease which has led to glaucoma being described as the ‘sneak thief of sight’. A baby suffering from glaucoma at birth usually has bulging and swollen eyes. Approximately one in10,000 babies have glaucoma and parents noticing symptoms should have a check carried out by an ophthalmologist.</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Early detection and appropriate therapy of glaucoma can significantly improve a child’s future life and vision. Treatment involves careful evaluation under general anaesthesia. The intra ocular pressure (IOP) is measured and treatment by surgery can be carried out at the same time which reduces subjecting the child to multiple sessions of general anaesthesia.</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Although anybody is at risk of getting glaucoma, there are certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of contracting the disease. These include those with history of glaucoma in the family, adults over 35 years of age, African race, high IOP, myopia (shortsightedness) and diabetes mellitus. If a member of a family has glaucoma, it is advisable for the other family members to see an ophthalmologist for eye checkups.</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><span style="font-family: helvetica;">The only way to detect and treat glaucoma early is by going for regular eye screening by an eye specialist particularly for the people at a higher risk. The doctor measures the pressure of the eye and examines the optic nerve in the eye. If necessary a visual field test will be performed.</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><span style="font-family: helvetica;">The main goal of treatment is to reduce the IOP to a safe level and prevent further loss of vision. This can be done by using pressure lowering eye drops, lasers or a variety of surgical procedures. Once glaucoma is diagnosed and treatment started, the follow-up with an ophthalmologist is life-long.</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Aga Khan University Hospital runs a glaucoma clinic every Wednesday and Thursday from 9.00 am to 5.00 pm by a glaucoma specialist. The Hospital has invested in the latest technology equipment for diagnosis and treatment of the disease.</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><span style="font-family: helvetica;">One of the signs of glaucoma is worsening of the peripheral vision or the appearance of “blind spots”. This can be realized by a patient when they are not able to see stairs clearly as they walk down stairs, or bump into people as they are not able to see them. In some cases, a driver fails to notice vehicles on either side of his or her car which indicates an advanced case of glaucoma.</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><span style="font-family: helvetica;">As the optic nerve is an extension of the brain, treatment by surgery is currently not available but extensive research is being carried out to develop new treatments for glaucoma. Meanwhile, controlling IOP is the only way of slowing progressive blindness caused by glaucoma.</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><span style="font-family: helvetica;">The suffering caused by glaucoma highlights the importance of seeing an ophthalmologist in addition to regular eye screening for early detection of the condition and management.</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><span style="font-family: helvetica;">Beware of “the sneak thief of sight.”</span><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><br style="font-family: helvetica;"/><em style="font-family: helvetica;">By Dr Sheila Marco, Consultant Ophthalmologist and Glaucoma Specialist at Aga Khan University Hospital</em>
 

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