Make eye donation a family tradition, says Dr Parul Chawla

| | Chandigarh
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Make eye donation a family tradition, says Dr Parul Chawla

Monday, 25 September 2023 | MANOJ KUMAR | Chandigarh

“Eyesight checkups should be done in case of any changes in the vision. People must avoid watching screens for a very long time”

Dr Parul Chawla, Associate Professor, (Cornea, Lens and Refractive Services), Advanced Eye Centre, PGIMER, Chandigarh, says that corneal blindness is a fourth leading cause of blindness globally. It is a visual impairment that occurs from the cornea becoming clouded, scarred or any other infection that ultimately affects the transparency of cornea, making a person blind. Early treatment is critically-important to prevent some common eye diseases from causing permanent vision loss or blindness. Eyesight checkups should be done in case of any changes in the vision. People must avoid watching screens for a very long period of time and also must eat food rich in vitamins that promote eye health, she adds.

 

Dr Chawla further says that organ donation is the biggest contribution to humanity. It not only saves lives but also touches and changes other lives associated with the one who receives the organ. Usually brain-dead patients are most suitable for organ donation and if harvested within the critical time. Anybody can donate organs irrespective of caste, religion and medical conditions. However, persons suffering from Metastatic Cancer, HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Syphilis, Rabies, Brain fever can’t be a donor, she adds.

 

In an exclusive interview with ‘The Pioneer’, Dr Chawla talks about tips for eye care, corneal blindness, who can or can’t donate eye, and Eye Donation campaigns at PGIMER, Chandigarh, among others. Excerpts:

 

What advice would you give to the people to take care of their eyes?

Eyes are one of the most vital organs in the human body and it is very important to take care of them. People should eat a healthy, balanced diet, do regular exercise, wear protective eye wear among others. They must get an eye sight check-up done at least once in six months. Eye strain, dry eyes, and other similar disorders can lead to severe ailments if they aren’t cured on time. Early treatment is critically important to prevent some common eye diseases from causing permanent vision loss or blindness. We must get eyesight check-ups done in case of any changes in the vision. We must avoid watching screens for a very long period of time. We must eat food rich in vitamins that promote eye health.

 

How many minutes should the eyes have breaks when using a computer?

Follow the 20-20-20 rule. One of the most popular tips for minimizing eye strain is to take a break from the screen every 20 minutes and look at an object at least 20 feet away for 20 seconds or longer. People blink less frequently when working on computers and smart devices. Every 20 minutes, blink 10-15 times slowly.

 

What is corneal blindness?

Corneal blindness, a condition where the cornea — the clear front part of the eye — becomes damaged or opaque, can severely impair one’s vision or even lead to total blindness. One ray of hope for those afflicted by corneal blindness is corneal transplant, a procedure that can restore vision in many cases. However, there lies a significant challenge — the discrepancy between the number of patients in need and the availability of donor corneas.

 

What are the causes of corneal damage? When to get help right away?

Corneal blindness is a fourth leading cause of blindness globally. It is a visual impairment that occurs from the cornea becoming clouded, scarred, or any other infection that ultimately affects the transparency of cornea, making a person blind. Some of the common causes are deficiency of Vitamin A, some viral, fungal or bacterial infections, congenital disease or any eye trauma. The causes of corneal damage include injuries to the outermost layer of the cornea, damage or scars from other eye surgeries, infections, hereditary corneal defects, and inflammation from chronic dry eye. One can consult an eye doctor if you have symptoms like intense eye pain; change in vision; blurry vision; very red, watery eyes, an object stuck in eye; a serious eye injury or trauma — like getting hit hard in the eye among others. Eye doctors can check for corneal conditions as part of a comprehensive eye exam. The exam is simple and painless.

 

Can cornea damage be treated?

Many corneal conditions can be treated with prescription eye drops or pills. If anyone has advanced corneal disease, they may need a different treatment like laser treatment, corneal transplant surgery and artificial cornea.

 

Who can or can’t donate eye?

Anyone can be a donor, irrespective of age, sex, blood group or religion. Anyone with cataract or spectacles can donate eyes. People suffering from hypertension, diabetes can also donate eyes. Eyes should be donated within six-eight hours of death. However, persons suffering from Metastatic Cancer, HIV, Hepatitis B, Hepatitis C, Syphilis, Rabies, Brain fever can’t be a donor. The donated corneas are transplanted to the patient's eye who are on the waiting list in accordance with the priority based on guidelines to avoid malpractices.

 

Can eye donation be done after death? What happens after eye donation?

Since eye donation is performed after death, people can pledge their eyes and register as a donor before they pass away. If the next of kin was willing for eye donation, a written consent was obtained. Eyes have to be removed within four to six hours after death. The donor need not be taken to the eye bank. The eye bank officials will visit the home of the donor for no extra charges. The age and gender of deceased potential donors, cause and time of death are noted. The entire procedure of eye removal does not delay the funeral, as it takes only 20-30 minutes.

 

What is the latest data on corneal blindness?

Corneal blindness has emerged as a significant healthcare challenge in India. At present, around 1.2 million people are corneal blind in India and current annual transplant number in the country is 25000- 30000.

 

What is the current status of gap between demand and supply of cornea at PGIMER?

In PGIMER, around 2200 patients are waiting for their corneal transplantation but the hospital gets only 400-500 corneas every year. At PGIMER, Chandigarh, eye donation campaign is being organized for mass public awareness. Recently, during 38th national eye donation fortnight, a lecture series was organized for eye donation in schools, colleges and public places to promote eye donation. In addition, painting competition, article writing competition and other activities were organized in schools on eye donation and the winners were felicitated at Advanced Eye Centre, PGIMER, Chandigarh. Besides, messages of eye donation were displayed at prominent places including religious places with collaboration of Lions Club Central, Chandigarh, for sensitization of the general public regarding this noble cause.

 

Do you think myths are a major barrier in eye donation?

Although the organ transplant programme has gained momentum over the past decade, there remains a lack of awareness among the public. Myths and superstitions are also widespread, posing challenges in obtaining consent from families. A common myth associated with cornea donation is that the deceased will be born blind in their next life.

 

On an average, how many eyes are donated each year?

While over the years, the number of eye donations has increased steadily, the COVID years saw a sharp decline in donations owing mainly as there were several contraindications involved in the process of both collection and transplantations. In 2022-23, the eye bank collected 440 eyes and transplanted 355. In 2021-22, the eye bank collected 488 eyes and transplanted 333, while the number 132 eyes in 2020-21 against 113 transplants. In 2019-20, the eye bank collected 600 eyes and transplanted 384, in 2018-19, the eye bank collected 806 eyes and transplanted 471. In 2012-13, the eye bank collected 306 eyes and transplanted 251. Eye donations can be enhanced by increasing public awareness or, by understanding and overcoming the barriers to eye donation.

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