More than two billion individuals live with eye conditions globally, with India alone home to millions of people suffering from preventable vision loss. According to AIIMS’ National Blindness and Visual Impairment Survey India 2015-19, 1.99% of Indians over the age of 50 years suffer from blindness.[i] While the number of Indians facing potential blindness is alarming, an even bigger concern is that the contributing conditions are greatly under-diagnosed.
As a result, a significant percentage of people suffer from permanent loss of vision due to factors including cataract (the clouding of the eyes’ lens), which is responsible for 66.2% of blindness cases amongst individuals aged 50 years or older,[ii] glaucoma (damage to the optic nerve) or retinal diseases like Age-related Macular Degeneration (AMD) and Diabetic Macular Edema (DME), which affect the layer of tissue in the back of one’s eye. AMD and DME, that are leading causes of blindness, are chronic and progressive retinal diseases that can be effectively managed with early detection and timely treatment. Glaucoma is also one of the leading causes of blindness for people aged 60 or older.
Common signs and symptoms
One must be alert and visit an Ophthalmologist or a Retina specialist in case of any of these symptoms:
- Blurred or fuzzy or distorted vision
- Impaired colour vision
- Decreased contrast or colour sensitivity
- Experiencing dark spots in vision
- Straight lines that appear wavy or crooked
- Difficulty seeing at a distance
- Gradual Vision loss
Dr. Mahipal S Sachdev, Chairman – Centre for Sight Group of Hospitals said, “In India, there are still million individuals who are blind from cataract, even though they could have their vision restored. In contrast, there are people aged 40 years or older who are afflicted with glaucoma who will become permanently blind without appropriate therapy. Another worrisome disease that is affecting the millennials today is Diabetic Macular Edema (DME), that is not completely preventable, but its onset can be delayed with regular exercises, a balanced diet and strict control of systemic conditions such as diabetes mellitus, along with treatment adherence.”
World Sight Day, celebrated on October 14th, marks an opportunity to raise awareness about retinal diseases and showcase the community’s commitment to support the millions of people nationwide living with preventable vision loss. This year’s theme, ‘Love Your Eyes,’ re-establishes the importance of giving one’s eyes the due care they deserve. World Sight Day forms a key opportunity to promote the need for regular eye screenings. Building on this, enshrined as part of the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals, nations have made eye-health integral to their SDG efforts.[iii] Starting at a young age, undertaking holistic steps to maintain optimal eye health is vital to prevent the onset or progression of eye diseases. This includes timely eye exams, staying alert to early warning signs such as blurry or double vision, limiting continuous screen exposure and blocking harmful UV rays, and reducing behaviours that could induce eye complications, including smoking.
Untreated Eye Diseases: The Double Threat
DME is a complication of diabetic retinopathy, affecting the back of the eye (the retina). It is estimated that by 2040, India will have the second highest number of diabetes cases in the world – with a proportionate rise in cases of preventable vision loss. According to research, 17.6% to 28.9% of diabetics suffer from diabetic retinopathy in India, largely affecting the country’s working age population. For a nation with a population of 1.3 billion people, this translates into significant disease burden as well as impacts on quality of life, productivity and the economy. A similar situation is evident in the case of AMD, which is the leading cause of vision loss among the elderly. Wet macular degeneration (wet AMD) is a chronic and degenerative disease. Timely commencement of treatment not only slows the degeneration, but also helps one maintain their eyesight.
Other diseases such as Glaucoma and cataract worsen with age and are medical conditions that may cause irreversible vision loss if untreated. Glaucoma is often neglected until a significant amount of damage has occurred. Those with a family history of glaucoma, or above the age of 40, are especially at risk.
Treating & Managing Eye Diseases
Early detection is vital to prevent vision loss, and recognizing its symptoms and undergoing screening can be key to this. There are various treatment options available that can limit disease progression and consulting an ophthalmologist to discuss available treatment modalities is a key step to understanding options that can be beneficial for maintaining eye health. Some of the options available in India include laser photocoagulation, anti-VEGF (Vascular Endothelial Growth Factor) injections, surgery and combination therapy which includes laser and anti-VEGF treatment. These are especially important to consider now, considering the gaps in treatment and routine eye care during the COVID pandemic, which led to health complications for affected patients, including the younger population.
Strictly adhering to prescribed treatments and recommended lifestyle modifications will help individuals keep their eye diseases in check, so they can benefit from improved outcomes.