Glaucoma is described as the “silent blinding disease” or the “sneak thief of sight”, according to World Glaucoma Week website.

Glaucoma can steal your sight silently Why you need to know more about it
Features Medical Friday, March 17, 2017 - 09:12

67-year-old Bharati Vangera, a resident of Bengaluru, is still basking in the glory of being part of a team of 1000 women from across the world who entered the Guinness World of Records in 2016 for making the largest crochet.

A former bank employee, Bharati knit eleven blankets out of the large blanket of 11,148 square meters, that was unveiled in Chennai last January. 

Bharati, who took to knitting twenty years ago, could not have been part of the event, if it had come her way a few years ago. For she had an eye condition called Glaucoma, that could have eventually lead to complete blindness, if it had been left untreated. 

A voracious reader, Bharati wasn't surprised when she had to start wearing glasses at the age of 16. 

"My parents would tell me not to strain my eyes by reading under dim light or while traveling, but I hardly took them seriously. After all, when you are young, it is highly unlikely that one would listen to such advice," Bharati laughs. 

In a matter of a few years, her vision became worse and there came a time when she only had an arm's length vision, despite wearing contact lenses and a bifocal glass over it. 

Years later in 2009, Bharati was diagnosed with Glaucoma, which is the second leading cause of blindness in the world. The condition is caused when the optic nerve -which connects the eye to your brain- becomes damaged, due to increased pressure of the nerve. If not treated on time, it could lead to complete loss of vision.

The fact that the condition has no visible symptoms, makes the process of diagnosis challenging, say Dr Meena Gopinath, Consultant at Sankara eye hospital in Bengaluru. 

"In case of Glaucoma, the patient begins to lose vision on the sides, and often tends to overlook this," she says. 

In Bharati's case, the condition was not diagnosed at an early stage. And when it was, she was given eye drops to control the excessive pressure on the optic nerve. However, the eye drops did little to ease her troubles, Bharati rues. 

"After being diagnosed of Glaucoma in 2009, I used eye drops for over a year. But the drops which were meant to reduce the advancement of the pressure, did not help much. I realized this every time I went back for a check up. I felt handicapped, I was practically tied down to the four walls of my house, for I could barely see anything," Bharati says. 

Fear of tripping and falling limited her movements to her house. "Glaucoma changes one's life more ways than one. I stopped cooking long back.Then my family stepped in. Later when my vision worsened, my daughter would hold my hands while crossing the road. I felt so restricted then," Bharati says. 

However, after getting a laser surgery done in 2011, Bharati's life changed. Everything is back to being bright and happy, the 67-year-old laughs.

While Dr Meena Gopinath says that Glaucoma is more common in adults above the age of 40, she adds that the condition is also seen in children, as young as six months old. 

"The youngest patient I have operated on, was a six-month-old baby a few years ago. In case of babies, the detection is pretty much easier compared to adults. And the only choice we have is to perform the laser surgery. In case of adults, it is the lack of awareness about the condition that delays the diagnosis. It is important that people know about the condition that will eventually prevent them from going completely blind," Dr Meena says. 

Bengaluru-based Ankur and his wife Avantika were perplexed when their five-month-old baby's right eye started watering. Assuming it would be a mild infection, baby Anvika was taken for a check-up. 

To their horror, the infant was diagnosed with Glaucoma. At the time, neither Ankur nor Avantika knew about such a condition and this worsened their plight. 

"I immediately searched on the internet and the results that were generated were scary. I am aware that an internet search would only give you the worst-case scenario, but then it was hard on the two of us, especially since Anvika was our first child. We then decided to go for the surgery," Ankur recalls.

It has been four years since Anvika underwent the surgery. Anvika, now a kindergarten student, wears glasses. Does the four-and-a-half-year-old know about Glaucoma?

"Not really...all she knows is that she gets to wear pretty-looking glasses," Ankur chuckles.

Recognizing the importance of spreading awareness about Glaucoma, Sankara eye hospital in Bengaluru, Kundanahalli is organizing a candle light walkathon on March 18 at 5.30 pm, till Marathahalli flyover. World Glaucoma Week is observed from March 12 to march 18.