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Regular screening, key to glaucoma prevention, says Ophthalmologist

Dr Maryam Abdullahi, a Consultant Ophthalmologist at the Federal Medical Centre (FMC), Jabi, Abuja, has said regular screening is the key to preventing glaucoma.

Speaking on Thursday during a free screening session and seminar organised by the hospital to mark the World Glaucoma Week, she said glaucoma, which is referred to as “the silent thief of sight” is the second leading cause of blindness after cataract worldwide. She added that it is also the leading cause of irreversible blindness worldwide, hence a major public health problem.

She defined glaucoma as a group of diseases characterised by progressive optic neuropathy (in form of optic nerve head cupping), associated with visual field changes.

She said that the Nigerian National Blindness and Visual Impairment survey of 2009 revealed that there was 4.2 per cent of general blindness, of which, 16.7 per cent were due to glaucoma.

She added that 50 per cent of people with glaucoma do not know they have the disease, as it is mostly asymptomatic and therefore not detected early, hence the emphasis on screening.

The ophthalmologist added that with glaucoma, loss of vision is progressive, explaining that though the exact cause of glaucoma was not known, many risk factors had been identified.

The factors, she said, include elevated Intra-Ocular Pressure (IOP), family history, race, being older than 40 years, refractive errors, thin corneas, eye injury, high blood pressure, diabetes and steroid use.

She said there is no cure for the disease, but there are various treatment options to stop the spread of the eye disease.

She also said that patients’ education and follow up are important, adding that screening of family members would also nip the disease in the bud.

“After diagnosis and commencement of treatment, follow up ensures that the IOP of the patient is within the target at which no further damage is occurring. Default from follow up has led patients to visual loss because glaucoma has no cure but requires monitoring and appropriate intervention when necessary.

“Glaucoma is a disease of public health importance as blindness because it is irreversible, hence, awareness, prompt diagnosis and treatment are key in fighting this disease.”

Abdullahi added that prevention of blindness could only be achieved by periodic, comprehensive eye examination.

Meanwhile, Dr Saad Ahmed, the Chief Medical Director (CMD), FMC Jabi, Abuja, said that the hospital would join the global community to create awareness about the disease.

He said “the idea is to be able to get those that are at risk of having aggressive glaucoma and give them some kind of treatment and those that are fine and good can go home happy and come back next year to check their eyes again. So, we encourage each and every person to have his/her eyes checked at least once a year, particularly those that are 40 years and above.”

Ahmed also said that the hospital would organise outreaches to remote communities in the Federal Capital Territory to reach out to the underserved and get them tested.

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