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Glaucoma eye disorder likely to double in India by 2040, say experts



In view of the significant rise observed in eye disorders detected, ophthalmologists suggest that the population of glaucoma patients in India is expected to double by 2040. In India, nearly 12 million are affected by glaucoma with an estimated 40-50 percent eye disorder cases going undetected.

Glaucoma is one of the leading causes of blindness, especially for people over the age of 60. It refers to a group of eye disorders which occurs when the pressure inside the eyes (intraocular pressure or IOP) increases enough to damage the optic nerves. As the optic nerves responsible for sending images to the brain are damaged, it results in vision loss. Left untreated, glaucoma can result in permanent blindness.

Dr. Purnima Biswal

Talking about the signs and symptoms of glaucoma, Dr. Purnima Biswal, Senior Consultant – Ophthalmologist, Dr. Agarwals Eye Hospital, Bhubaneswar said, “They vary depending on the type and stage of the condition. Usually the first signs of glaucoma are seeing halos or rainbow-colored circles around lights or having unusual sensitivity to light. Loss of peripheral or side vision is another common symptom. However, most people with glaucoma have no early warning signs. The effect is so gradual that people may not notice any change in vision until the condition progresses to an advanced stage. Hence, the only way to detect glaucoma is to get a comprehensive dilated eye exam.”

Increasing prevalence of chronic conditions like diabetes, cardiovascular diseases, high blood pressure, and myopia amongst others can contribute to the development of glaucoma, said Dr Biswal.

Those who undergo treatments for over production of Vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF), a kind of protein, for certain eye diseases, and those who use oral contraceptive pills for long periods are highly susceptible to glaucoma, she added.

Although it is commonly detected in those above 60, it can affect people of all age groups including children.

The two major types of glaucoma are: open-angle glaucoma and angle-closure glaucoma. Ophthalmologists examine the angle between the cornea and iris to determine the type of glaucoma affecting the person. However both these conditions have the characteristics of preventing eye fluid from draining out through a tissue at the angle where the iris and cornea meet. As the fluid is not able to flow out at its normal rate, the pressure inside the eyes increases and damages the optic nerves.

Although the eye disorder cannot be completely treated, it can be controlled through the use of eye drops, pills, laser procedures and surgical operations. Trabeculectomy, a type of glaucoma surgery performed on the eye to create a new pathway for fluid inside the eye to be drained, has been the main surgical procedure worldwide for several decades.

Glaucoma patients are advised to go for regular follow-ups to detect progression and to prevent vision loss. Even with regular treatment, about 15 percent of glaucoma patients become blind in at least one eye within twenty years.

Highlighting the need for better vision treatment centres, Dr. Biswal said, “In India, millions of people do not have access to qualified eye specialists and eye hospitals. The lack of infrastructure and an unequal distribution of eye care facilities in the country is a cause for concern. The country needs advanced centres in peripheral areas to enhance the reach of medical interventions and screening the high-risk population.”

Increasing awareness of risk factors and symptoms of glaucoma should be an important strategy to address the growing glaucoma challenge, suggested Dr Biswal while advising an eye-check up every1-2 years for people aged above 60, 2-3 years for people in the age group of 40-60 years and 2-4 years for people under the age of 40 for early diagnosis and medical intervention to control the effect of glaucoma.

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