Don’t turn a blind eye to check-ups

Optical experts issue warning to those who choose to ignore the signs that their eyesight is beginning to deteriorate.

DUBAI // Edmund Ayola’s sight started to fail him not long after he moved to Dubai. The warning signs were there, but work and a busy lifestyle meant the 55-year-old put off visiting a doctor.

The procurement manager had been gradually losing the sight in his left eye for two years, but assumed it was because of age. When he found himself in hospital for treatment on an overactive thyroid gland, doctors told him he suffered from glaucoma and risked losing his sight unless he took immediate action.

“I had an eye check in the UK and the optician said there was something untoward in the back of my eye,” said Mr Ayola, who moved to Dubai 18 months ago.

“I had a very busy life so never did anything about it. I was in the hospital in Dubai so thought I would get my eyes checked. Then I found I had glaucoma.”

An ophthalmologist who examined him said the damage caused by ignoring the earlier warning signs was irreparable.

“I’ve lost some sight, and it’s not going to get any better,” Mr Ayola said. “The best treatment I can get is to stop it from getting worse. I’ll need eye drops for the rest of my life. I have to put them in every night. I could have limited the damage if I had gone to the doctor sooner.”

Glaucoma, a common condition that can lead to blindness if ignored, is thought to affect 60 million people worldwide. Because there are no early symptoms, regular eye tests offer early detection of the degenerating condition that affects the optic nerve, which transmits images to the brain. If untreated, it will cause permanent blindness within a few years.

Check-ups are crucial, particularly if there is a family history of glaucoma, you are over 40 or have diabetes. Figures from the International Diabetes Federation suggest that 19.3 per cent of the UAE population are living with diabetes so could be at risk.

According to the World Health Organisation, the number of people estimated to be blind as a result of primary glaucoma is 4.5 million, accounting for slightly more than 12 per cent of all global blindness.

Dr Mamta Mittal, an ophthalmologist and glaucoma specialist at Prime Hospital in Garhoud, said diabetics should have regular eye tests to limit the chance of going blind.

“Diabetics are more prone to glaucoma, and we are seeing three to four new cases here in Dubai every month,” she said.

“The main problem is that there are no symptoms, unless there is high pressure on the optic nerve, which is rare. A patient’s eyes can be easily tested when a diabetic is due a routine retinopathy check-up. If there are signs of glaucoma, more tests can be done.”

Screening for glaucoma tests the size and shape of the optic nerve to assess if there has been any deterioration. Its function is assessed with a visual test.

Prime Hospital offers free glaucoma tests for all patients.

Eye drops reduce pressure on the optic nerve. In cases where glaucoma has become advanced, surgery is required to save what sight remains in the patient.

“If left untreated, within 10 to 15 years the patient could lose his sight completely,” Dr Mittal said. “The unfortunate thing with glaucoma is whatever is lost, is lost forever.”

Heeding the advice of doctors was key, Mr Ayola said.

“The biggest message I would say to anyone is to keep checking your vision, listen to what the specialists say and act upon any treatment advice they give.”