“I was diagnosed with glaucoma four months ago” says Issah Salamatu, 2018
Like the windows of buildings being the avenue to see the environment, the eye is termed the window of our soul. The adventure, beauty, charm and splendor of our world is appreciated by the eye. This is true but sadly 39 million are blind. Out of these, glaucoma is second to cataract as the commonest culprit of blindness worldwide accounting for 4.5 million blind cases according to the World Health Organization. Glaucoma stands tall as the chief cause of irreversible blindness globally. Africa has a lion share of the cases of glaucoma with Ghana topping the chat. Ghana is one place shy of the top of the glaucoma pyramid following St. Lucia closely. Historians believe that the St. Lucia was the final destination of some blacks (of Ghanaian origin) after the transatlantic slave trade in the 17th century. Extrapolatively, Ghanaian descents and the black race are at the highest risk.
I recount of a story of a young 24 year old lady who reported blinded in both eyes to the ophthalmology department of the Tamale Teaching Hospital few weeks back due to glaucoma. “I didn’t know I was gradually losing my sight” she said. Glaucoma is a silent thief of sight. It has an insidious onset culminating into total irreversible blindness if it is not checked. The second week of March every year is the week set aside as world glaucoma week to raise awareness of this disease because it has become a dailment of public health concern.
Glaucoma is simply ‘hypertension’ of the eye. An increase in intraocular pressure (the pressure inside of the eye) to level that impairs, compresses and finally, irreparably destroy a component of the optic nerve (the ‘cable’ that connects the back of the eye to the brain) called the ganglion cells, that helps us see. The pressure in the eye is accounted for by the fluid drainage system of the eye; whether there is over-production of the fluid (aqueous fluid), underdrainage of the same or both. Unlike a balloon that explodes on being overfilled to relieve pressure, the eye is unable to same but rather exerts pressure on structures of the eye; of notable importance is the optic nerve. In a few cases the pressure in the eye will be normal.
The cause of glaucoma is not known, however there are risk factors that increases the chances of acquiring the disease. They can either be modifiable (factors that can be controlled) or non-modifiable (you can barely do anything about them) risk factors. African descent, family history of glaucoma and advanced age (> 60yrs) are non- modifiable while shortsightedness (myopia), smoking, alcohol intake diabetes, hypertension, sickle cell disease and chronic use of unprescribed eyedrops containing steroids are modifiable risk factors. These steroid containing eye drops are taken by people to relieve a longstanding itchiness of their eye but increase the intraocular pressure. This is why you need the advice of a medical practitioner before applying these medicine that are meant not to harm you but overuse may cause problems. Modulation of the above modifiable risk factors will reduce the likelihood of glaucoma. Individuals with the non-modifiable risk factors can help themselves by regular, faithfully and annually go for an eye checkup. The reason being that glaucoma slowly and imperceptibly eats away one’s sight.
Glaucoma is symptomless in most cases up until it is too late to regain lost sight, however these may be non-specific promptings : recurrent eye pain, nausea and heachache, bumping into people or objects unusually, seeing halos or rainbow colours around light sources, persistent or recurrent redness of the eye and tunnel vision ( seeing objects directly facing you but not the objects on the sides). In this glaucoma week, take a quick dash to the ophthalmologist to have your eye checked.
Glaucoma can have a devastating effect on the socioeconomic life of victims. A driver named Isaac Adongo is now unemployed because he has lost his sight. Even when it is detected before total blindness, the grippling fear of permanent blindness sends waves of depression into victims. Families are rendered poor because bread winners of their family have glaucoma-associated blindness. I endeavor to say get tested now. Surprisingly, glaucoma screening is free and covered under the National Health Insurance Scheme(NHIS) across the country. EARLY DETECTION SAVES YOUR SIGHT.
Glaucoma is irreversible. You cannot gain back the sight lost. It cannot be corrected but can be managed by lifestyle modification and with drugs. So GET TEST NOW.
Source: Michael Baah Biney, a final year medical student