By Dickson Adom Glaucoma has been one of the threatening eye diseases that cause total blindness. The World Health Organization ranks it as the second most common cause of blindness globally. Global statistics reveal that about 4.5 million persons' blindness was as a result of glaucoma. It is projected that this number would rise to 11.2 million in the year 2020 by which time glaucoma cases globally is estimated at 76 million. The World Glaucoma Association indicates that glaucoma is great among population of persons aged between 40-80 years. Glaucoma is often developed among people in Africa, African-Americans, East Asians and those from the Hispanic descent. Recently, Ghana is ranked second in worldwide statistics for glaucoma cases with 8.5 percent of persons from 40 years to 80 years and 7.7 percent of persons above 30 years. 15-20 percent of all blindness cases in Ghana are attributed to glaucoma.
Glaucoma is a group of diseases with a major characteristic of an optic neuropathy or damage of the optic nerve which transports visual images from the nerve fibers in the retina to the brain. Though painless, glaucoma can be very fatal, leading to permanent loss of vision when it is not attended to medically at the early stage of its development. It is mostly detected through structural change or functional anomaly. Medical researchers in the field of ophthalmology attributes the primary cause of glaucoma to the inner destruction of the optic nerve which results in an increased pressure of the aqueous humor fluid known medically as intraocular pressure (IOP). Usually, when the mesh-like channel of the anterior chamber where the aqueous humor fluid penetrates is blocked, it starts damaging the optic nerve that eventually results in glaucoma. Researchers at the Massachusetts Eye and Ear Centre have recently discovered that glaucoma is caused by an immune response to an early exposure to bacteria which causes higher rise in the pressure in the optic nerve of the eye, triggering heat shock proteins. When the heat shock proteins are detected by the memory T cells, they wrongly label the neurons in the retina as foreign materials, resulting in an autoimmune attack which eventually causes glaucoma.
Early symptoms of glaucoma include tumor, advanced cataract, inflammation of the eye, eye redness, stinging of the eye, nausea, vomiting, severe eye infection, seeing of halos or coloured rings around lights, and loss of the peripheral. People with diabetes are susceptible to glaucoma infection. Also, persons with a family history of glaucoma are likely to get infected through hereditary. It has been noted that the taking of certain steroids such as prednisone could trigger glaucoma attack. At its early stages, glaucoma is treated with the use of eye drops such as prostaglandin analogues, beta blockers, carbonic anhydrase inhibitors, and cholinergic agents. At its acute stage, microsurgery of the eye may be performed.
There are various forms of glaucoma. These include the open-angle or chronic glaucoma, angle-closure or acute glaucoma, congenital glaucoma, normal tension glaucoma and secondary glaucoma. All the types of glaucoma should not be underestimated. As soon as the symptoms highlighted occur, prompt medical attention must be taken. Unfortunately, many persons detecting these symptoms often ignore the early warnings and end up facing the dire consequences of vision loss. Ophthalmologists advise that regular and comprehensive medical checkups and/or examinations should be conducted for patients to know the health status of the eyes. Some of the eye tests that are often carried out include the Tanometry test, Pachymetry test and the Perimetry test to check the inside pressure, peripheral or side measurement and vision of the eyes as well as the thickness of the corneas. These tests would reveal whether the eyes' fluid or drainage systems are working properly to avert all possible causes of glaucoma.
Subtle as it may be seen from the outside, glaucoma is a very dangerous eye disease that the general public especially those in the rural regions need to be sensitized on its symptoms and dire effects. Health agencies must constantly carry out educative workshops on the causes, symptoms and treatment options for glaucoma through regular sensitization campaigns. When the general public is well educated, this sneak thief of sight, glaucoma could be handcuffed in our global communities.