According to a report on Vanguard Newspaper, the President of Nigerian Optometric Association NOA Dr. Damian Echendu, has said that no fewer than forty- five million persons will go blind by 2020 globally.
Already, it is estimated that about 285 million people are visually impaired worldwide, 14% of whom are completely blind representing an astonishing 39 million people. Furthermore, it is even more disheartening that not less than 80% of these cases of blindness are preventable or treatable if appropriate measures are taken towards addressing the more common causes of blindness like cataracts, refractive errors, glaucoma, and diabetes.
According to the International Classification of Diseases – 10 (ICD-10), four levels of visual function have been described viz normal vision, moderate visual impairment, severe visual impairment and lastly blindness. Hence, blindness represents the worst case scenario in the spectrum of visual function. Moderate and severe visual impairment are collectively referred to as Low Vision whereas blindness essentially refers to a complete loss of vision.
In the light of the enormous burden of visual impairment especially in the developing countries, the World Health Assembly under the aegis of the World Health Organization instituted an action plan to facilitate universal access to eye health. The aim was to achieve at least 25% reduction in the number of cases of preventable visual impairment by 2019.
Described below are some time-tested measures that have been shown to be effective in preventing avoidable causes of blindness:
1. Keep your blood sugar normal
Diabetes mellitus is characterized by high blood glucose levels and is one of the very important causes of permanent blindness. While you may not have total control over whether you develop diabetes or not, the fact remains that you still have some control by adopting healthy lifestyles like regular exercise and good diet which will go a long way in keeping your blood sugar within normal limits. Diabetes mellitus can cause serious damage to the retina (diabetic retinopathy) leading to blindness. Hence, patients with diabetes are supposed to undergo a thorough eye examination by a trained physician at least once a year. Moreover, diabetes is a potent risk factor for cataracts which is a leading cause of blindness.
2. Quit Smoking
Smoking damages every organ in the body and the eyes are no exception. Research has shown that smoking increases the likelihood of going blind in old age by up to four times. Evidently, it damages different parts of the eye including the lens (cataracts), macula (macular degeneration) and retinal blood vessels (retinopathy). Furthermore, research has shown that smokers have a double risk of developing cataracts as well as a three-fold risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration later in life. Tears produced by the lacrimal glands are necessary for eye lubrication and maintaining healthy eyes. However, tobacco irritates the eyes and impairs the production of tears ultimately setting the stage for visual impairment and eventual blindness.
3. Avoid Trauma to your Eyes
Trauma – blunt or penetrating is the leading cause of unilateral blindness in individuals younger than 45 years. Penetrating trauma directly undermines the lens capsule leading to opacification at the site of injury and blindness if the rent or tear is extensive. In the same vein, prolonged exposure to ionizing radiation also traumatizes the eye lens and leads to avoidable blindness.
4. Consume more Vitamins and Minerals
Age-related Macular Degeneration is another important cause of blindness. A reduced incidence of Age-related Macular Degeneration was noted among individuals who consumed enough antioxidant vitamins and minerals including Vitamins A, C, E, zinc, and copper. Also, lutein (a carotenoid found in dark leafy green vegetables), omega-3 fatty acids and zeaxanthin may also reduce the risk of Age-related Macular Degeneration. Sadly, every year, at least half a million children go blind, no thanks to deficiency of Vitamin A in their diets which lead to avoidable night blindness.
5. Wear the Proper Glasses
Refractive errors (myopia, hypermetropia, and astigmatism) are a leading cause of blindness globally. The good news is they can be readily corrected by a simple pair of prescription glasses. It’s noteworthy however that making use of the wrong type of glasses can even worsen your vision, hence the need to consult the optometrist for proper evaluation of both eyes before suitable glasses are prescribed.
6. Treat Eye Infections Promptly
Trachoma and Onchocerciasis are the leading infectious causes of avoidable blindness and can be readily treated with appropriate drugs. In a bid to cut down on the incidence and prevalence of trachoma-related blindness, the World Health Organization advocates the SAFE strategy for trachoma control. Components of the strategy include Surgery, Antibiotics, Facial cleanliness and Environmental improvement. Fortunately, medications like azithromycin and ivermectin have proved effective in treating trachoma and onchocerciasis (river blindness) respectively.