Don’t go blind, have your eyes checked

GOTCHA - Jarius Bondoc - The Philippine Star

Do you see halos around lights, suffer blurry vision, or have spells of nausea or eye pain? Are you over 50, have previously sustained eye injury, or finding it harder than others seeing in dim light?

Have your eyes checked at once. If it’s nearsightedness (myopia), farsightedness (hyperopia), or distorted vision (astigmatism), the doctor easily can fit you with corrective lenses. If it’s cataract, doc can remove it, in a 20-minute outpatient surgery. Pray it’s not glaucoma, for that would be serious.

Glaucoma is the world’s leading cause of permanent blindness. It is irreversible; once you have it, it’s for life. Glaucoma cannot be cured; the symptoms can only be treated. Eyesight will continue to deteriorate; at best doc can slow down the blindness for the patient to outlive it.

Glaucoma is a complicated disease, in which optic fluid drains out of the eye canals too slow, pressuring the surrounding optic nerves. Once impaired, the optic nerves are unable to perform the job of relaying to the brain what the eyes see. And so, blindness.

Ophthalmologists liken it to a sink filling up with water faster than emptying, due to clogging. Consequently the water spills over, messing up the surroundings. The solution  to the sink and to the eyes  is to lessen the pressure flow of fluid, or unclog and even add drainpipes. These are done by medication, or laser procedures, or knife surgery.

Problem is, by the time glaucoma is detected it is because the patient already noticed vision loss. Some optic nerves already have snapped irreparably. Blindness has set in. There is yet no way to fuse back frayed optic nerves. The patient will have to visit the doctor regularly from thereon to monitor the eye pressure; that is, if the optic fluid continues to overflow and harm the optic nerves.

Around 70 million people worldwide have glaucoma. The Glaucoma Research Foundation of the United States attributes the surge to the aging population. By year 2020, about 11.2 million individuals will be blind in both eyes due to the condition, warn Profs. Harry Quigley and Aimee Broman of the Wilmer Ophthalmological Institute in Baltimore, Maryland.

There are no reliable counts of how many Filipinos are suffering from glaucoma. Ophthalmologists know that it is the country’s main cause of blindness in both eyes. Cataract surgery has become so hi-tech but quick and cheap that sufferers can have at least one eye done to retain vision. Not so with glaucoma, often called “traydor na sakit”.

Here’s how treacherous it can be. In most cases, glaucoma worsens gradually, painlessly, and half of the time with no symptoms. Only when a person loses much vision would it be noticed, indicating glaucoma in an advanced stage.

That usually happens to those afflicted with the first of two major types: primary open-angle glaucoma. There is a gradual loss of peripheral vision in both eyes, one worse than the other. Damage to tunnel vision follows.

Completely different symptoms mark the second type: angle-closure glaucoma. One should watch out for severe eye pain, at times accompanied by nausea and vomiting; sudden blurry vision; reddening of the eyes; and seeing halos around lights.

Glaucoma afflicts more the elderly than youths. Doctors caution seniors against casually dismissing dimming vision as part of ageing. Better to pinpoint if mere eyeglasses, or cataract removal, or glaucoma slow-down treatment is needed.

Even infants can be at risk if glaucoma runs in the family. Young adults can get it too from eye injury, or frequent and prolonged use of steroids. Especially prone are those with diabetes, and Asian.

The Philippine Glaucoma Society (PGS) stresses that glaucoma can be treated  that is, total blindness can be delayed  if detected early. Thus, regular eye checkups are necessary: upon birth, every five or ten years thereafter, more frequently upon reaching 40.

The first thing the ophthalmologist will do is peer inside the eye to see if there is damage to the optic nerves, says Dr. Jose Ma. G. Martinez, PGS president. Eye pressure is measured with a special instrument. Checked too are the adequacy of the flow of eye fluid through the canals, peripheral vision, and depth perception.

The PGS aims to prevent blindness among Filipinos due to glaucoma, says vice president Joseph Anthony Tumbocon, MD. This March 10-16 is World Glaucoma Week. The PGS and the Philippine Academy of Ophthalmology are holding glaucoma awareness forums in selected hospitals nationwide. Screenings of laymen for the disorder also are lined up. For details, visit www.wgweek.net and www.pao.org.ph.

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Catch Sapol radio show, Saturdays, 8-10 a.m., DWIZ, (882-AM).

E-mail: [email protected]


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