Affecting over 70 million people worldwide, glaucoma robs sufferers of one of the most precious senses – vision.
This “silent thief of sight” is a progressive, incurable disease that damages the optic nerve, as a build-up of fluid in the eye causes increased eye pressure.
Despite glaucoma being the world’s leading cause of blindness, many people don’t know how to protect themselves from this disease.
With about 5% of South Africans over 40 years old suffering from it, there are steps that you can take to care for your eyesight and safeguard yourself from the financial impact of treating and managing this disease.
What is Glaucoma?
The Mayo Clinic defines glaucoma as a group of eye conditions that harm the optic nerve. Good vision depends on the optic nerve, which transmits visual data from your eye to your brain. Damage to the optic nerve is often related to high pressure in your eye. However, even with normal eye pressure, glaucoma can still develop.
Because many glaucoma patients remain asymptomatic early in the disease's course, glaucoma is the most prevalent cause of irreversible blindness globally, according to a review on Glaucoma in Adults—Screening, Diagnosis, and Treatment by Joshua D Stein.
Is it in your genes?
Madelein Barkhuizen, executive manager of sales and marketing at Bestmed Medical Scheme, claims the likelihood of developing glaucoma is often increased by four to nine times if a member of your direct family has the condition.
She says knowing your family history will help you estimate your lifetime risk of acquiring glaucoma, which is your first line of defence. Glaucoma can attack at any moment, even though it was historically believed to be an eye indication of ageing because diagnosis rates are greater in people over 40.
“Don’t delay getting a clear understanding of your risk profile.”
Keep an eye on your health with preventative screening
To diagnose glaucoma early and perhaps enhance your treatment outcomes, schedule routine appointments with your optometrist or ophthalmologist (eye surgeon). Unfortunately, glaucoma frequently develops without any symptoms, and many patients lose their eyesight before they realise they have a serious eye condition.
Barkhuizen draws attention to the fact that many people overlook their eyes when scheduling routine health examinations, that being proactive is essential for reducing risk, and that glaucoma can be treated and managed in advance.
“So, book an eye test every two years if you’re over 40 years old and every year if you’re over 60.”
Eat for your eyes
The most straightforward and economical strategy to safeguard your vision is to maintain a balanced diet. To strengthen immunity and avoid developing disease, make sure you are providing your body with the essential vitamins and minerals. Fill your plate with beta-carotene-rich carrots, antioxidant-rich berries, and fibre-rich leafy green veggies for eye health.
“While no one food can ‘fix’ your eyesight, maintaining overall health is crucial for minimising your overall risk of disease,” Barkhuizen said.
Consistency is key
If you receive a glaucoma diagnosis, stick with your treatment plan. Consistent treatment can regulate eye pressure and stop vision from deteriorating or failing entirely. Treatment options include incisional surgery, laser surgery, and ocular drops and tablets.
The ability to be persistent in treating any chronic illness, including glaucoma, is protected by having coverage, even though costs can be a significant barrier to continuing medical treatment when you don’t have adequate medical aid.
Glaucoma cannot be cured currently, but it can be treated, which comes with a significant cost. Because the expense of treating glaucoma can reach tens of thousands, as it does with most chronic conditions, she said.
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