“OUR eyes are like precious jewels and our eyesight is one of our most important assets. Despite this, many South Africans are not as attentive to their eye health as they are about other aspects of their health,” said KwaZulu-Natal ophthalmologist Dr Yavische Reddy during Eye Care Awareness Month, which was held between September 23 and October 18 this year. Reddy said that vision loss can have a variety of different causes and affects people of all ages and groups.“Vision loss can either occur gradually over time or rapidly, depending on what is causing it,” Reddy said. She said it is important for a condition such as glaucoma, for example, to be identified and treated before it goes on to cause serious vision loss. Cataracts, which quite commonly develop in elderly people, can be surgically removed, the lens replaced, and eyesight restored. Eyeglasses, surgery, medicines and other interventions may be used to assist people with eye and vision problems.THE IMPORTANCE OF CHECK-UPS“The importance of maintaining good eye health and of having your eyes and eyesight regularly checked by an optometrist or, if necessary, an ophthalmologist, a specialist concerned with the study and treatment of disorders and diseases of the eye, cannot be over-emphasised. We recommend that all South Africans have check-ups, preferably at least once every two years, to ensure that their eyes remain in good health.” Dr Reddy highlights three conditions that commonly negatively impact the eyesight of many South Africans.GLAUCOMA Glaucoma is a progressive condition that results in damage to the eyes’ optic nerve. It usually progresses relatively slowly and initially has no symptoms, pain or vision loss. If left untreated, however, it results in decreasing peripheral vision, and eventually tunnel vision and blindness. “Glaucoma is detected by assessing your intraocular pressure, examining the optic nerve, and checking the visual field. There is currently no cure for glaucoma and vision lost as a result of the disease cannot be restored. Treatment, however, can prevent further loss of vision. Depending on the severity of the disease, treatment may include eye drops, laser treatments and/or certain minor surgical procedures.”DIABETIC EYE DISEASEDr Reddy says that people with diabetes are at risk of developing diabetic eye disease, which refers to a group of conditions. These include diabetic retinopathy, diabetic macular oedema and cataracts, all of which have the potential to cause vision loss and blindness. “Diabetic retinopathy typically lacks early symptoms and often goes unnoticed until visual loss occurs. This vision loss is sometimes irreversible. Early detection and treatment can reduce the risk of blindness by up to 95%. It is therefore critical for people with diabetes to get a comprehensive dilated eye examination at least once a year.”AGE-RELATED MACULAR DEGENERATIONAge-related macular degeneration, also known as AMD, typically affects patients over the age of 50 years. It causes damage to the macula, a small spot near the centre of the retina, which is needed for sharp, central vision and enables us to see objects directly ahead. “There are two variants of AMD: one progresses slowly due to deposits and atrophy in the retinal tissue, and the other develops rapidly due to bleeding in and under the retinal tissue. AMD does not result in complete blindness, but may greatly hinder everyday tasks such as driving, reading, cooking and writing. It is important for those with AMD to stop smoking and eat a diet high in green leafy vegetables and omega fatty acids.”EYE CARE TIPSUse eye protection — avoid unnecessary eye injuries by using protective eyewear that wraps around the eyes when working in an environment where there is a risk of something getting into your eyes, such as dust, metal fragments or chemicals. Also consider wearing protective eyewear when engaging in sports where balls or racquets are used, as they may pose a risk for eye injury. — Supplied.