The silent thief of sight

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The eye is one of the most intricate parts of the human body, made up of approximately two million working parts. For many of us, little thought is given to how these small yet powerful organs operate daily to bring us vision and enhance our experiences of the world around us.

World Glaucoma Week (10 to 16 March) aims to raise global consciousness about one of the world’s leading causes of blindness, as well as the importance of eye health and the growing risk of glaucoma, a disease that affects over 40 million people worldwide.

What is glaucoma?

Glaucoma is a set of degenerative illnesses that can cause substantial damage to the eye’s optic nerve, resulting in tunnel vision, weakened eyesight and blindness. There are different variations and causes of glaucoma, but for most sufferers, a decreased blood flow and raised pressure in the eye will damage the many delicate nerve fibres that connect the eye to the brain. With a damaged optic nerve, vision quickly deteriorates and, in many instances, this damage is irreversible.

“Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness globally, after cataracts.”

Regular eye examinations are important to rule out any possible illness that could cause vision impairment. Your local optometrist will perform a routine eye pressure test to check for any abnormalities. If your eye pressure is found to be higher than the average, you may be referred to an eye specialist to be screened for glaucoma.

Be advised, however, that an eye with a normal pressure could also develop glaucoma. The causes differ, so recognising the risk factors and warning signs may help to prevent any permanent vision loss.

The warning signs

Glaucoma is the second leading cause of blindness globally, after cataracts. Sadly, there may be very few symptoms until it is too late. Many only realise that they have the condition once they experience severe vision loss and black spots.

Some of the warning signs to watch out for include any blurred vision and halos around light sources (especially at night), flashing lights, a sudden onset of headaches or pain behind the eyes, and any sudden vision disturbances. If you experience any of the above symptoms, please seek medical attention immediately.

The risk factors

If you have a family history of glaucoma, you will be at a higher risk of developing the condition yourself. In such cases, it is advised to be screened annually to rule out any early onset of glaucoma or vision deterioration.

Studies suggest that age, ethnicity and lifestyle choices also play a role as risk factors in the development of glaucoma. Darker-skinned individuals are found to be at greater risk, as well as those who are older than the age of 40.

Eye trauma or injury, as well as any existing medical conditions affecting your blood pressure, may also elevate your risk. Conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes and hypothyroidism may therefore predispose you to glaucoma.

Smoking is also bad for your eyes. In fact, recent studies have linked smoking to an increased risk of developing certain cancers and eye conditions that could damage the optic nerve and result in blindness.

Maintain good eye health

Safety precautions you can take to help maintain your vision and overall eye health:

  • Shield your eyes from the harsh rays of the sun by wearing UV-protected eyewear when outdoors.
  • If you are engaged in work that could compromise your eyesight, always protect your vision with goggles or safety shields.
  • To avoid any risk of infection, always wash your hands and keep your contact lenses clean. Follow the care instructions of your contact lenses and replace them when advised.

Eat your way to healthier eyes

Your diet directly affects the functioning of your body and its vital organs. For the eyes, it is no different. A nutritious, well-balanced diet packed with fruits and vegetables, will do much to protect your sight and maintain good eye health.

Dark, leafy greens such as spinach and kale are bursting with lutein, a nutrient responsible for protecting your central vision. Similarly, carrots and egg yolks are natural sources of lutein – the perfect fuel for your eyes. Omega-3 fatty acids, present in fish such as tuna and salmon, also offer many nutritional benefits including properties that help to fight eye illness.

Obesity predisposes you to many illnesses including degenerative heart disease and diabetes – all of which may affect your vision. Aim to maintain a good weight and make healthy lifestyle choices to lower your risk of developing an unwanted illness.

Remember, up to 80% of everything we perceive is done with our eyes. Our vision is often the first contact we have with the world. Stay safe, know your risk factors and always aim to maintain the overall health of your vision.

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