In 2013-2017, a population study conducted in Nigeria revealed that 1.8 million Nigerians of ages 40 years and above suffer from “glaucoma”. Of that figure, almost 360,000 (20%) go completely blind Worse still, vision lost due to glaucoma cannot be recovered. Unfortunately, most Nigerians are unaware of the condition and this has contributed to the high number as indicated.
So what’s Glaucoma?
Glaucoma (also called Ocular hypertension) is an umbrella term that refers to several different eye diseases that damage the eye’s optic nerve, the nerve that transfers visual information from the retina to the brain. It is caused by pressure on the optic nerve (whether high or normal), and could occur at any age, although it is more common in older adults.
According to data from World Health Organization, glaucoma is the second leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide and in Nigeria! The most common form of glaucoma known as Open Angle Glaucoma or Chronic Glaucoma has no warning signs. In fact, the effect is so gradual that you may not notice a change in vision until the condition is at an advanced stage.
Every Nigerian is at risk of glaucoma and so, it is important to have regular eye examination that include measurements of eye pressure.
Oh no! How do I know if I have Glaucoma?
As there are several different forms of glaucoma, there are also different symptoms. However, there are signs which are common to all. These include severe eye pain (first sign of glaucoma), redness of the eye, blurred or cloudy eye (particularly in Infants), tunnel vision, headache and a sick stomach (nausea).
For primary open-angle glaucoma, there is usually no associated symptoms except reduced peripheral vision. And once vision has been impaired, it cannot be reversed. As it may be hereditary, there is no cure for this disease but the good news is that some treatment may slow the severity of the disease.
Angle-closure glaucoma, on the other hand, comes with sudden symptoms such as headache, eye pain, dilated pupils, red eyes, vision loss, halos around light, nausea and vomiting. (Fun fact: Angle-closure glaucoma gets its name from the appearance of the eyes of a person with this condition which is about 45 degrees.)
Another type is the normal tension glaucoma which is also called low tension Glaucoma. It is as a result of a damage to the optic nerve and usually results in loss of vision. Essentially, it is caused by poor blood supply to the nerves which leads to the death of cells that carries impulses from the retina to the brain.
Is that all?
Well , not yet! Although all Nigerians are at risk of having this condition, some people are more prone to glaucoma than others and it is important to know your risk status so that you can meet your doctor for early detection. People above the age of 40, people with a family history of glaucoma, people who are with intraocular pressure, and the people of Sub-Sahara Africa (includes Nigeria) have higher chances for developing glaucoma.
The truth is there’s no cure for glaucoma but ophthalmologists say early screening and detection can reduce the risk of glaucoma or at least slow it down. It is therefore recommended that at the age of 40, you should go for screening every four years if you don’t have any glaucoma risk factors, and every two years if you are at a high risk or over 65 years.
Also foods that contain Vitamin E, A, D, C, zinc and Omega-3 fatty acids help prevent “glaucoma”. Good sources of such nutrients include eggs, fortified cereals, fruits, wheat germ, green leafy vegetables, nut, oyster, poultry, potatoes, carrots, sardines, walnut and flaxseed oil.