Glaucoma and Cataracts : Are Black people more prone?

“Eyes are more accurate witnesses than ears,” Heraclitus of Ephesus 540-480BC…………………

Our eyes are the divine gifts which enlighten our mind and soul with every single moment of life.  But anomalies within the body and our ignorance sometimes subject eyes to several ailments which not only cause trouble in viewing our surroundings but can actually rob us of our vision too.

Glaucoma and Cataract are two such perils for our eyes – both caused due to certain glitches in the eyeball.  Some people consider both these diseases to be similar which is completely wrong.  Let’s look closer at these diseases so that we can become aware of their occurrence and take action accordingly before it’s too late.

Each eye receives its share of nutrients from a clear, watery fluid called aqueous humor, present in the anterior chamber of each eyeball.  A specialized meshwork of cells or trabecular network which makes a drainage angle at the junction of the iris and the cornea is responsible for aqueous drainage.  Failure of adequate drainage results in a disorder known as glaucoma, in which high levels of intraocular pressure can reduce the blood supply to the eye and eventually damage optic nerve.

People aged over 45 years, a previous history of eye injury, diabetes, nearsightedness and farsightedness, constant high intraocular pressure and black racial ancestry act as prime driving forces for glaucoma.  Glaucoma can slowly creep into your life without you having a single inkling of it. Your eyesight hardly faces any problems until it reaches an advanced stage where loss of vision sets in; that is one reason that glaucoma is named as ‘the silent thief of sight’.

"The Ocular Hypertension Treatment Study (OHTS) has suggested that black patients overall may have a thinner average central corneal thickness, thereby leading to under-diagnosis of elevated pressure, and consequently, exposure to higher risk of developing glaucoma. Therefore, pachymetry measurement is particularly important in establishing a baseline for African-American patients who are glaucoma suspects."

The symptoms of glaucoma depend on the type of glaucoma which happens to be roughly of two types, open angle and closed angle.  Both open angle glaucoma and chronic closed angle glaucoma hardly give any warning initially and your eyes will appear perfectly healthy.  As conditions starts getting worse, the visual fields of its patients narrows and their side vision starts to deteriorate.  A reddish tint appears in eyes of the patients of chronic angle-closure glaucoma and the enlarged pupils become unresponsive to light while severe eye pain also occurs.

Apart from troubled eyesight, chronic angle-closure glaucoma can also cause nausea, vomiting, headache and blurred vision. Eye drops can aggravate the symptoms to some extent.  When medication fails, surgeries remain the only option open though they hardly promise a permanent cure.  In order to save yourself from gruesome surgical procedures, seek medical help for prompt treatment of eye inflammations and other diseases which often carry the seeds of glaucoma.  Annual check-ups by an Ophthalmologist are  worthwhile routines, especially if you fall into one of the categories mentioned above.

Cataract, another trauma of the eyes, scores highest when it comes to eye diseases. Alterations in the composition of the cornea or the eyes’ natural lens can significantly reduce their transparency and have serious consequences for visual perception like cataract which accounts for roughly half the cases of blindness in the world. Almost everyone over the age of 70 will experience some loss of transparency in the lens that ultimately degrades the quality of visual experience and can lead to blindness if left untreated.

Depending on their place of occurrence on the lens, cataract is categorised into sub-capsular cataract (at the back), nuclear cataract (at the centre) and cortical cataract (begins at the periphery  and progress towards the centre like spokes of a wheel).  Exposure to UV rays of the sun, ionising and infrared radiation, hypertension, diabetes, eye injury and family history of cataract makes you more prone to this eye disease. How will you know that you have cataract?  When your vision turns hazy, colours seem duller than before and bright lights dazzles you; it is high time that you visit a doctor.  Nuclear cataract leads to an enhanced near vision which wanes as cataract goes downhill.  

Strong bifocals and apt lighting can aid in this disease during initial stages.  But if conditions turn severe, it is wise to undergo cataract surgery. It is a somewhat painless way to restore vision by replacing the clouded lens with a clean artificial one.  You may have to go through the ordeal of cataract at a certain point of your life but certain changes in your lifestyle can delay the process.  Say no to smoking, cut down your alcohol consumption and treat yourself with fresh fruits and vegetables. It will not only reduce the hazards of cataract but will also provide you with other health benefits that aid in your overall well being.  It is extremely important that you do not neglect the need for a regular eye check up to keep your eyes healthy and functional.Liya Das (TCC)

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