Night blindness is a disease that has rendered many people incapacitated. It affects children and adults.
Many sufferers rely on loved ones to be able to move around.
Dr. Valentina Ideh, an ophthalmologist and Medical Director, Prime Optical Eye Centre, Benin described night blindness as a condition in which people find it difficult to see at night.
According to her, whether the light is on or off, a sufferer finds it difficult to see as if the light is off at all times.
“The eyes have rods and cornea which are two important elements for vision (seeing) and when there is a problem with the rods, which accounts for day and night time seeing, the patient will have difficulty seeing at night,” Dr Ideh explained.
She said: “Difficulty in seeing at night could be as a result of vitamin A deficiency, particularly in children. And apart from that, having problems with cornea which is the light, clear covering of the eye, could also affect night vision.”
“The notable type of night blindness we have is retinitis pigmentosa, and as the name suggest once the retina has a problem with pigments of the rods, there would be problem with vision.”
She explained that night blindness patients were usually born with the disease, which could be mild, moderate or severe.
In the mild form, the patients will tell you they have difficulties seeing at night and when you inquire further you find out that some members of the family also have the same kind of problem, the medical expert explained.
“Usually the problem gets worse as the patient gets older because it has to do with certain kind of pigments depositing in the back of the eye, in the retina, and it is like a destruction in the retina. As the patient grows older and the retina destruction takes place, the night vision really gets bad to a point where the patients has tunnel vision – that is such small vision that they can only see through a tunnel,” she also said.
In addition to that, the optic nerves get very paled, and that they may also have glaucoma, Dr Ideh said, adding that “the vessel also becomes not very healthy and unable to supply the retina very well.”
“As this continues, it gets to a point when the patient has to be led by the hand. So it is a gradual process, in the sense that as the patients get older, the vision gets worse,” she said.
The expert said there were certain elements in the eye which release a kind of enzyme that allowed a person to see but in the case of a person with night blindness, they don’t work well; it is pitch black all the time because the elements to see are not there.
She said the disease was hereditary and that the major symptom was that the person would start noticing that he or she does not have good vision at night, and then it gradually gets worse. It is not something one can foresee like other diseases,” she said.
She added that when that occurred, some people erroneously blame it as an attack from witches or people in their families.
Dr Ideh advised young people in school who have the disease to always move along with a torchlight at night.
On prevention, she said the only way to prevent the disease now was for people not to marry from families whose members they know suffer from night blindness.
Ideh said the disease is not something that can easily be treated but extra vitamin A tablets and cod liver oil tablet can be used.
She said it was important to get children immunised to prevent them from having measles or corneal disease.
“But for older people who have retinitis pigmentosa, it is a problem because when adults who have the disease in their family get married and have children with retinalty pigmentosa problem, the children will be more likely to have the severe form of night blindness.
“It is one of the diseases that don’t have a permanent cure or treatment. There is still a lot of discussion on the treatment but vitamins are what we really use for treatment. If the person has glaucoma and cataract and anything associated with it, we treat them,” she said.