World Sight Day, which was celebrated on Oct 13, focuses global attention on blindness and vision impairment.

In Malaysia, it is also an opportunity for healthcare professionals, corporations, the media and communities to come together to forge partnerships in improving eye health in Malaysia.

This call to action is in line with the theme of the 2016 World Sight Day, which is “Stronger Together”.

While healthcare professionals such as ophthalmologists, optometrists and ophthalmic nurses take the lead, equally important is the support and participation by patients, carers, communities and the media in raising awareness on eye care and eye health.

This World Sight Day theme is premised on the understanding that when more groups come together – like the diabetic community, the visually-impaired and vulnerable groups, including those with other disabilities – the stronger the effort becomes.

By networking, coordinating, cooperating and collaborating, stakeholders working together can accomplish goals they couldn’t reach working in isolation.

Groups of people working together can figure out ways to garner the necessary skills, funds and time to raise awareness on eye disorders, and improve eye health and care services.

What we need are people who are well-organised, cooperative and determined.

And as we work together, we are not only accomplishing our goals, such as making eye care more accessible, we are also learning how to bring the local decision- making process into the hands of community members.

Around the world, World Sight Day takes on different areas of focus each year – cataract, glaucoma, diabetes, eye care management – in a move to reach out to new groups and to highlight support or funding that has helped deliver quality eye care services in the community.

A special area of focus this year is social media, under the hashtag #StrongerTogether.

When we engage many groups through social media, with different views, resources and skills to address common concerns, the results can be spectacular.

According to the International Agency for the Prevention of Blindness, established in 1975 as a coordinating umbrella organisation to lead international efforts in blindness prevention activities, an estimated 285 million people worldwide live with low vision and blindness, and of these, 39 million people are blind, while 246 million have moderate or severe visual impairment.

About 90% of blind people live in low-income countries.

Yet, an estimated 80% of visual impairment incidence is avoidable, which means they are readily treatable or preventable.

Restoration of sight and blindness prevention strategies are among the most cost-effective interventions in healthcare.

The number of people going blind from infectious causes has greatly reduced in the past 20 years. However, an estimated 19 million children globally remain visually impaired.

An estimated 65% of those who are visually impaired are aged 50 and above. Increasing elderly populations in many countries mean that more people will be at risk of age-related visual impairment.

In line with this year’s Word Sight Day theme, we would like to bring to attention a perennial eye condition in Malaysia – blocked tear drainage ducts.

Basic anatomy

Our tears serve to protect our eyes by lubricating, nourishing and cleansing the ocular surface.

Tears, which are produced by the lacrimal gland, drain to the nose via a complex series of ducts.

When a tear drainage duct is blocked, tears can’t drain normally into the nose, leaving the person with a watery and irritated eye.

The condition is caused by a partial or complete obstruction in the tear drainage system.

A blocked drainage tear duct is common in newborn babies. This condition usually gets better without any treatment during the first year of life.

In adults, however, a blocked tear duct may be due to ageing, injury, infection or a tumour.

In some instances, a blocked tear duct could be a side-effect of chemotherapy medication and radiation treatment for cancer.

When tears aren’t draining the way they should, the tears that remain in the drainage system become stagnant, and this promotes growth of bacteria, which can lead to recurrent eye infections and inflammation.

Sign and symptoms

The signs and symptoms of a blocked tear duct include excessive tearing, redness of the white part of the eye, recurrent eye infection or inflammation, painful swelling near the inside corner of the eye, crusting (formation of a hard, outer layer) of the eyelids, and mucous or pus discharge from the lids and surface of the eye.

An ophthalmologist will be able to diagnose a blocked tear duct, and the treatment options will depend on the level of the obstruction and the severity of the tear duct blockage.

The treatment options are external dacryocystorhinostomy (DCR) surgery, endoscopic DCR surgery, stenting or intubation, and dilation and flushing of the tear ducts.

Treatment is usually successful more than 90% of the time.

This World Sight Day, let us join hands in our mission to raise awareness that good vision is everyone’s right.

Dr Ong Chin Tuan is a consultant ophthalmologist, oculoplastic and lacrimal surgeon.