Eye problems can affect our quality of life if they go unnoticed. Most people don't really consider the importance of an 'eye exam', until or unless they see a visible symptom, in most cases swelling.
One of the most dangerous eye problems that cannot be cured but controlled is glaucoma. It can lead to permanent loss of vision if condition is not treated early.
What is glaucoma?
Glaucoma is an eye condition where the optic nerve, which connects your eye to your brain, becomes damaged and can lead to vision loss, explains Dr Plackseda Ngowi, a medical doctor based at the Buguruni Health Centre.
However, Dr Ngowi says that early detection and treatment can protect your eyes against serious vision loss.
Explaining the biology behind the damage, Dr Ngowi says, "When you talk about glaucoma, you need to know about the optic nerve, which is a bundle of more than one million nerve fibers. It connects the retina to the brain. The retina is the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. A healthy optic nerve is necessary for good vision."
Eye pressure is a major risk factor for the optic nerve to be damaged.
What causes it?
The extent of glaucoma depends on the level of pressure your optic nerve can tolerate without being damaged.
"This level is different for each person. That's why a comprehensive dilated eye exam is very important. It can help your eye care professional determine what level of eye pressure is normal for you," explains Dr Ngowi during the interview.
Dr Ngowi cautions that not every person with increased eye pressure will develop glaucoma. Some people can tolerate higher levels of eye pressure better than others.
Also, a certain level of eye pressure may be high for one person but normal for another.
A part from that, glaucoma can develop without increased eye pressure. This form of glaucoma is called low-tension or normal-tension glaucoma.
Another factor for optic nerve to be damaged is the blood pressure. Thus, it is important to also make sure that your blood pressure is at proper levels in your body by consulting with your medical doctor.
People between the ages of 40 and 60 are at a higher risk of developing this condition but it is not limited to them. Anyone can develop glaucoma, so says Dr Ngowi.
Glaucoma has no symptoms, causes no pain and vision stays normal. Glaucoma can develop in one or both eyes.
Without treatment, people with glaucoma will slowly lose their peripheral (side) vision.
"As glaucoma remains untreated, people may miss objects to the side and out of the corner of their eye. It's as if they seem to be looking through a tunnel. Over time, straight-ahead (central) vision may decrease until no vision remains," explains Dr Ngowi.
According to Dr Ngowi, there is no cure for glaucoma but it can be controlled. Vision lost from the disease cannot be restored.
Most people with glaucoma have no early symptoms or pain. You need to see your eye doctor regularly so he/she can diagnose and treat glaucoma before long-term visual loss happens.
"If you have a family history of the disease, you should get your eyes examined by an eye doctor every one to two years. If you have health problems like diabetes or you're at risk for other eye diseases, you may need to go more often," advises Dr Ngowi.