World Sight Day on the 10th October is a time to encourage friends, family and colleagues to have an eye exam. It is also a time draw attention to conditions that can lead to blindness and visual impairment. As people get older, many will develop aged-related eye diseases such as cataract, glaucoma and age-related macular degeneration (AMD). Much less known is that older people are at greater risk of complications of shingles, which can develop in the eyes and cause vision loss.
A recent study from the Kellogg Eye Center at the University of Michigan revealed that women and adults over age 75 years are most vulnerable to shingles in the eye, which will trigger corneal complications and result in permanent visual impairment, and, in rare cases, blindness.
The diagnosis and treatment of shingles in the eye is often delayed, increasing the risk of sight-threating complications. "Sometimes people complain of a headache, or think it's a skin infection, or allergy. It's only when the characteristic rash comes out that patients are more definitively diagnosed, and that can lag.” says the lead James Chodosh, an ophthalmologist with expertise in viruses at Massachusetts Eye and Ear in Boston.
The good news is that there are effective vaccines for shingles, some being more than 90% effective in preventing the infection and recommended for people aged 50 years or over. “Older patients were at far greater risk for shingles in the eye highlighting just how important it is for older adults to get the shingles vaccination,” says Nakul Shekhawat from the Kellogg Eye Center study.
As an important element of public health agendas older people must have the right to access eye exams and safe and effective vaccines so that they can contribute to their family and society.
Over 3 out of 4 of the world’s vision impaired are avoidably so. Join the IFA and the International Agency for the prevention of Blindness (IAPB) and millions of people around the world by giving your voice to #WorldSightDay.
To learn more about vision health and the importance of regular eye exams, please contact IFA expert Dr. Juan Carlos Silva, Regional Adviser on eye care for Latin America and the Caribbean at the Pan American Health Organization.