The health information campaign that aims to save the sight of Muslims who have glaucoma during Ramadan.

Glaucoma UK, the Muslim Council of Britain (MCB), and the British Islamic Medical Association (BIMA) have joined forces to share important health information that could save the sight of Muslims with glaucoma who are fasting during Ramadan. These organisations are encouraging Muslims with glaucoma to continue using their medication, especially eye drops, as prescribed during the holy month, to prevent irreversible sight loss.

Glaucoma is the name of a group of eye diseases that damage the optic nerve. The optic nerve transfers visual information from the eye to the brain and if it’s damaged, it can result in sight loss and even blindness. Glaucoma is often caused by a build-up of fluid in the eye. This causes pressure in the eye (called intraocular pressure, or IOP) to increase which damages the optic nerve. Eye drops are the most common treatment for glaucoma. They decrease the amount of fluid in the eye, either by increasing the drainage of fluid out of the eye, or by reducing the amount of fluid that is made.

The Ramadan period is based on the lunar cycle and is expected to fall on 22 March to 21 April this year. It is a holy month for Muslims and the religious practice requires them to fast between dawn and sunset. They break the fast after evening prayer and sunset and traditionally celebrate with family and friends.

Among the estimated population of 50,000 Muslims living with glaucoma in the UK, research has shown that almost half (45.5%) believe that using eye drops during Ramadan may break the fast, especially when the excess drop drains down the back of the throat and can be tasted.

The Ramadan campaign aims to urge those who are fasting for Ramadan to make their glaucoma eye drops as part of their routine, as stopping the eye drops even for a short period of time can cause permanent loss of vision. It is important for Muslim glaucoma patients to note that according to the majority of Islamic scholars, eye drops are not considered to break the fast.

A practical way to ensure that eye drop medication stays in your eye and doesn’t reach your throat is to use punctal occlusion. This involves putting finger pressure at the corner of the eye, next to the nose, immediately after instilling drops and holding this for up to two minutes. This is generally good practice for anyone with glaucoma as it will ensure the eye drop stays in the eye where it can do its job and protect your vision.  

For anyone who is still worried about using their eye drops during fasting hours, the organisations are encouraging them to use their drops between Suhoor and Iftar.  

Joanne Creighton, Chief Executive of Glaucoma UK, says: “Glaucoma UK is passionate about helping Muslim patients take part in the holy month of Ramadan without putting their sight at risk. It’s vital that glaucoma patients use eye drops as prescribed by their medical professional as stopping the medication for any amount of time could lead to irreversible vision loss. Blocking your tear duct, by pressing on the corner of your eye next to your nose, immediately after putting in the drop, is helpful to ensure the eye drops remain in your eye where they can work to lower eye pressure.”

Dr Wajid Akhter, a National Council Member of the Muslim Council of Britain, reiterated the Islamic imperative to safeguard our health. “Our sight is a gift from Allah and one way to show gratitude is to preserve it. As the guidance clearly shows, we do not have to choose between our health and our faith.”  

Dr Salman Waqar, a GP and President of the British Islamic Medical Association, says: “Ramadan is a special time for Muslims across the world. We look forward to seeing one another during Iftar and spend much of the month looking for spiritual benefits. Do not forget to look after your sight either. Glaucoma is a largely silent disease and not using your drops in Ramadan to control it may worsen your eyesight without you realising it.”  

The charity is working with healthcare professionals and partner organisations to share the Ramadan campaign poster and other assets with their communities to encourage Muslims living with glaucoma to keep using their eye drops during Ramadan.