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Vision impairment: Prevent what can be prevented

It is often said that we realize the value of what we have only when we lose it. Take health, for example. Its value is only truly appreciated when there is a possibility or a high risk of disease. For instance, vision or eyesight is one of our most valuable and essential functions that allows us to enjoy the beauty of this world in which we live, but we tend to take our eyesight for granted. And yet, there are many people who are not so privileged and have to adapt to a world that they are unable to see.

What is needed in India

In our country, an estimated 4.8 million people suffer from blindness.[1],[2] Most of the eye diseases that lead to poor vision are largely preventable. What would it cost to prevent these diseases? Not much. A timely, regular eye check up by an eye specialist is all that is needed to detect some of these diseases at an early stage which could in turn help treatment to begin promptly and reduce the chances of long term complications and result in permanent reduction in vision.

Cataract is a leading cause of blindness. In the West, the average age at which cataract is reported is when people are in their late 60s or 70s. In India, about 30% of our patients develop cataract before the age of 60 years. This means that they have a longer active lifespan ahead of them at the time of diagnosis. This why we, as doctors and surgeons, need to customize their treatment to suit their lifestyle and vision requirement. We are fortunate that we have several modern, less invasive and safe treatments available that can help patients regain their lost vison and enhance their lifestyle in the way they desire.

Gujarat is the diabetes capital of the country. But few patients are aware that diabetes can seriously affect their eyes as well. It can cause permanent vision changes in the retina and can commonly cause the development of cataract at a younger age and lead to a more rapid maturation of cataract in cases with fluctuating diabetes control. As a result, by the time patients realize that they have developed vision loss, they are already at a very advanced stage of the disease, which increases the risk of complications during the treatment and sub-optimal visual outcomes. Even today, it is common for us to see patients, even from educated backgrounds, present to us with advanced changes of cataract, retinal diseases and glaucoma. This is largely because of the general lack of awareness regarding eye health and the need for regular eye check-ups.

Now, the Covid-19 pandemic has further added to the problem. Patients were right to avoid activities which they thought could be delayed because this would require going out of the home. As a result, essential activities such as health check-ups were also delayed. Because of this we are seeing more and more patients presenting with advanced stages of the disease as compared to what we were seeing 8 to 10 months ago. We do understand why patients are apprehensive about stepping out and entering a hospital. However, I would urge patients not to delay an eye check-up if they experience any difficulty or impairment in vision, or any other symptoms in their eyes. Only once they have had a check-up would they know if their condition requires immediate or elective treatment. As they say, “Prevention is better than Cure”.

By Dr. Abhay Vasavada, Director Sr. Consultant, Iladevi Cataract & IOL Research Centre

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