Don’t be hard on your eyes

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Regular eye tests at the specialist is necessary for silent eye conditions such as glaucoma.

GOING for regular eye tests is not just about checking if your myopia has worsened or changing prescription glasses. Jennifer Tan (not her real name), in her 50’s, didn’t think much of it when her eyes felt very dry one day and then suddenly started tearing uncontrollably during a meeting. An emergency check at a specialist eye centre later showed that she had acute glaucoma which had to be operated on almost immediately.

Glaucoma was a rude surprise to her but it was thankfully treated in time and has made her more aware of glaucoma risks as she ages. Dr David Chan of Atlas Eye Specialist Centre said: “Surgery was done to relieve the pressure on the eyes. Immediate treatment is necessary otherwise there’s irreversible damage to the optic nerves? For those above 45 years, annual eye check-ups are important, especially tests that examine field of vision and also eye-ball pressure. Such tests can pick up on chronic or potential acute glaucoma.

While acute glaucoma might be accompanied by signs of headache, nausea, blur-ring of vision and pain in the eyes, chronic glaucoma has no symptoms and is known as the silent thief of sight, says Dr Lee Hung Ming of Lee Hung Ming Eye Centre. Acute glaucoma is common among Chinese ladies above 55 years old because of the narrow angle of their eyes. “Because the eye structure is smaller in size, the angle or ‘door’ that allows fluids to drain out of the eye gets closed,” he says.

In chronic glaucoma, the optic nerves get increasingly damaged and the field of vision narrows. But by the time patients realise they have “tunnel vision”, it is too late and the damage is permanent “If the patient comes in early, then there is treatment, usually in the form of eye drops, laser or surgery to stop glaucoma,” Dr Lee explains. The pressure build-up on the eye slowly damages the optic nerves and what’s damaged is irreversible?
By the time patients realise they have ‘tunnel vision’, it is too late and the damage is permanent.

Aside from the age, those who have a history of high myopia, diabetes and previous eye injuries are at risk. With medical advances in the field, there are now several types of eye drops which can control pressure to help the condition. There is an increasing awareness these days as more are coming to have their eyes checked regularly. Says Ho Ching Lin, adjunct associate professor, head (Clinical Services) and senior consultant of the Singapore National Eye Centre’s Glaucoma Department “Everyone is at risk for glaucoma. Older people are at a higher risk although it can also affect children and young adults. Glaucoma has a strong genetic basis and family history is known to be a risk factor? In Singapore, approximately three per cent of people over the age of 50 have glaucoma. This percentage increases with age and is almost 10 per cent for those over the age of 70. Glaucoma accounts for 40 per cent of blindness in Singapore.