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It is often said that eyes are the window to one’s soul. No doubt at all about that, since eyes are the most expressive part of a person’s face and can show you what is not spoken out aloud. They rightfully find place in many well-known quotes, mythological stories as well as cultural dances. But most often than not, we take our vision for granted. And given the fact, that 80% of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured (according to the World Health Organization), we remain committed to preventing avoidable blindness in the region and the world.
Not very far back, a close family friend’s uncle was complaining of vision problems. He explained that he was seeing some black spots and took it lightly assuming its connection with old age and self-diagnosing it to be cataract. Given my link to the pharmaceutical industry, I was able to convince him to visit a retina specialist. Next thing, we learnt that he was diagnosed with AMD or age-related macular degeneration – one of the most common cause of severe visual impairment and blindness1. In fact, both of his eyes had developed AMD, one eye slightly more than the other. The doctor stressed on the fact to him that he had come at the right time, because of which it could be treated and further progression could be prevented. If delayed, it could lead to other problems. This was a very important episode in my personal life. It’s not just the case with wetAMD, but with many of the eye diseases which if not picked up early could lead to problems. Vision loss impacts patients’ ability to complete everyday tasks and has been associated with a decrease in the quality of life.3
Seeing is believing
The eyes are the most important sensory organ which allows us to learn more about the surrounding world than we do with any of the other four senses. They help us in mundane tasks like reading, writing, crossing the road, stitching or repairing, etc. We are able to see in bright light or dim light, but imagine if we are suddenly placed in a dark room. I am sure we all remember how it felt as kids to scramble for the nearest torch or source of light during a power cut. The immediate response is panic followed by an urgent need to find event the faintest vision. Eyes offer not just the ability to see but also the chance to appreciate the beauty around us. They use about 65% or your brainpower – more than any other part of your body – for processing images captured4. In fact, classical Indian dances illustrate the importance of eyes. Each drishti bheda or eye movements tells a unique story in sync with other body parts and plays a vital role in the overall performance.
Yet, according to the World Health Organization, an estimated 285 million people worldwide suffer from visual impairment that cannot be corrected by eyeglasses or contact lenses. The same statistics also indicate that around 80% of all visual impairment can be prevented or cured2 and the demand for medical assistance is correspondingly high, because maintaining or regaining vision helps improve the quality of life enormously.
One of the most common causes of blindness, yet almost unknown to the general public, is age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The first sign of age-related macular degeneration can be when straight lines suddenly look bent. The disease usually starts in one eye, but the second is also highly likely to be affected later. Further indications of macular degeneration can emerge when reading, for example, where the patient fixes his/her eyes, the letters become blurred, and only an indistinct blob can still be seen. This blob grows in size over time, with the result that sufferers can, for example, see a clock but not what time it is. Or they can recognize a person's outline but not his/her facial features.
“Dry” age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is the most common form of the disease. It only progresses slowly, so that the patients’ loss of vision remains limited. The “wet” form of macular degeneration (about 10 to 15 percent of all AMD cases) causes much more serious restrictions of vision. More and more medicines that restrict a specific growth factor known as VEGF (vascular endothelial growth factor) are used today in the treatment of wet age-related macular degeneration.5
Another common cause for visual impairment is diabetic macular edema (DME) triggered by blood sugar levels. If not controlled, high blood sugar can damage the capillaries in the retina. About one in every three people who have had diabetes for 20 years or more, will develop DME - a condition where damaged capillaries leak fluids causing swelling (edema) and result in blurred vision. If not treated, DME can result in complete loss of central vision. 5
Nearly all visual defects and eye diseases can be effectively treated and corrected today. The crucial factor here is to actually identify the problem. That’s why it’s important to regularly visit an eye doctor or optician. The earlier eye diseases are detected, the better the chances of successful treatment. We have been tying up with
This year (2019) marks the fifth annual World Sight Day photo competition, driven by the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness and sponsored by Bayer. The aim is to raise global awareness on blindness and vision impairment and this year’s WSD theme, ‘Vision First!’ encourages everyone, everywhere to prioritize vision health. When’s the last time you had an eye check?
Disclaimer: “This article is intended for informational and general educational purposes only. The content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment or to be used as a prescription for a remedy of disease. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health care provider with any questions you may have regarding your medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or seeking it because of something you’ve read in this article”.
2 Pascolini, D. and Mariotti, S.P. Global estimates of visual impairment: 2010 Br J Opthalmol. 2012; 96: 614-618.
3 Soubrane, G. et al. Burden and health care resource utilization in neovascular age-related macular degeneration. Arch Opthalmol. 2007; 125(9): 1249-1254.