Glaucoma: The Silent Thief of Sight

As we age, so do our eyes. But not many realise the urgency of taking care of our eye health until they are no longer visually capable or something goes wrong with them. 

Hospital Raja Permaisuri Bainun (HRPB) Ophthalmologist and Glaucoma Specialist, Dr. Ng Hong Kee said our eyes are prone to stress and growing old as well, and that if we neglect it’s health, they too will deteriorate. 

He expressed that it is important that we keep our eyes healthy no matter what stage in life we are at, for it helps define our ultimate happiness as it brings about good eyesight and keeps our bodily function at its peak. Without good eyes, one may be held back from their daily tasks, lose connection with those around them and eventually leave a void in their lives. 

In conjunction to the World Glaucoma Week which is happening in March, the ophthalmologist dived into what glaucoma is all about and how it should not be dismissed lightly. 

Running the glaucoma week celebration for HRPB with his senior, Dr. Ch’ng Tun Wang, he shared, “Glaucoma is a group of eye diseases that affect the nerve that connects our eyes to our brain, known as the optic nerve. It will cause characteristic changes to the optic nerve associated with visual field abnormality.”

How does one develop glaucoma?

If you think it is part of genetics, you are only partially right. According to Dr. Ng, glaucoma is seen in two categories; first is without any identifiable external causative factor, however it is commonly linked to changes in the genetic material which alters the genetic information. 

Meanwhile, the latter category is closely bonded with external causes such as drug-induced, previous eye surgery, history of eye injury, diabetes and many others. 

Based on the National Eye Survey II, individuals in their 50s and above are shown to be more vulnerable to blindness triggered by glaucoma.

Like cancer, glaucoma, broadly recognised as ‘The Silent Thief of Sight’, can cause permanent blindness if discovered late, there is no return from the vision loss. The ophthalmologist emphasised that with a prompt and an adequate treatment, one can cease glaucoma from progressing. 

Here’s another fact to keep in mind.

Many of us have the habit of rubbing their eyes for relief of an itch and if you are one of them, it is high time to break it. Although the itch may signal a range of things like an eye infection, allergies, dry eyes or other health concerns, vigorous and excessive rubbing is very damaging to the eyes. This is because it may injure the external and internal structure of the eyes such as the cornea and natural lens and catalyse the loss of vision, infection or increased eye pressure, potentially leading to glaucoma. Dr. Ng advises all to consult a doctor should they experience eye pain, reduced vision, eye redness, abnormal light sensitivity, headache or nausea after rubbing their eyes.

Eye itching may be contributed by several reasons such as allergies to pollen, dust, pet danders or certain products in your home; airborne irritants like smoke, diesel exhaust or perfumes; inflammation or bacterial, viral or fungal infection; contact lens; and dry eyes. 

Dr. Ng shared with us the ways to tackle the drying problem. Dry eye occurs due to inadequate or poor quality tears and leads to insufficient lubrication to the surface of our eyes. If you experience any symptoms, try to practice the following recommended eye-health routine: 

  1. Don’t direct hair dryers or fans towards your eyes 
  2. Avoid sitting in seat where air conditioners are directed towards your eyes 
  3. Wear sunglasses with safety shields to block wind and dry air 
  4. Take a short break in between your long-duration tasks, close your eyes for a few minutes or blink repeatedly for a few seconds 
  5. Stop smoking and avoid smoke 
  6. Position your computer screen below eye level and at appropriate distance (Use artificial tears regularly)

“Some studies have claimed that Omega-3 can potentially optimise our eye health and reduce dry eye symptoms, lower the progression of macular degeneration as well as reduce the risk of glaucoma. But there is no concrete evidence that supports the recommendation of Omega-3 supplement usage,” Dr. Ng highlighted.

What puts one in jeopardy of glaucoma is the deterioration of the optic nerve that is located in the back of the eye. 

“Increased pressure in the eye is one of the reasons for glaucoma. However, there is also another entity of glaucoma with normal eye pressure which is known as normotensive glaucoma. 

“To be more precise, there is a constant flow of fluid inside our eyeballs to maintain the shape and function of our eyes. Eye pressure is determined by the fluid production inside the eye as well as the outflow mechanism. High pressure inside our eyes is due to the outflow obstruction to the eye fluid. At the moment, there’s no solid evidence that lack of sleep or high exposure of blue light leads to the spike in pressure. But excessive use of electronic devices may disrupt sleep or other aspects of your health or circadian rhythm,” he explained.

Photo sourced from the internet

World Glaucoma Week (WGW) is celebrated in the month of March every year. To create public awareness about Glaucoma, this year, HRPB  is honoured to be the host for the Ministry of Health (MOH) National Level WGW 2022 celebration. They will be collaborating with various parties in organizing the programme, namely the Malaysian Glaucoma Society (MGS), Malaysia Society of Ophthalmologist (MSO), College of Ophthalmologists, Universiti Malaya, Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia, Universiti Sains Malaysia, Pejabat Kesihatan Daerah Kinta, Malaysia Medical Association (Perak Branch) and the Ipoh City Council (MBI).

A line-up of activities for this week include social media programmes like Facebook challenge events namely Blindfold Nasi Lemak challenge and Cherish Your Moment challenge as well as a TikTok competition. 

There will also be an educational public talk titled “Sembang Santai” as well as a glaucoma talk for general practitioners (through MMA) and doctors in Kinta’s health clinics. Printed educational pamphlets are being distributed to each major health clinic in Kinta District to be given to local patients there. Glaucoma information will also be displayed on newspapers, magazines, and digital billboards around Ipoh city. Landmark buildings in Ipoh are being lighted up in green to create public awareness about glaucoma, too.  

Refer here for more information on the programme.


Gisele Soo


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