It’s Allergy Season!

Tis the season…allergy season!  Eye allergies affect one in five Americans.   Seasonal allergies happen during certain times of the year when usually spring and fall, when exposure to pollen from grasses, trees, weeds, and mold spores increases.

Seasonal eye allergy symptoms include red, itchy, burning eyes, over-tearing, or even swollen, puffy eyelids.   You can limit your exposure to allergens and stave symptoms by staying indoors and using your air conditioner while driving instead of rolling down your car windows.   Wearing large sunglasses can block some degree of pollen that could potentially get near your eyes too.  Do not rub your eyes, that will make your symptoms worse.

Saline eye rinses and lubricants soothe allergy-irritated eyes and help flush out the allergens. Oral antihistamines can help as well.   Refrigerating eye drops may help them provide additional relief of allergy symptoms.

Red, itchy, burning, and puffy eyes can be caused  by infections and other conditions that could potentially threaten your vision.  If your symptoms persist after you’ve already tried drops and antihistamines, visit your eye doctor to make sure it isn’t anything more serious.

What are Macular Holes?

The macula is the small area in the center of your retina that is full of light-sensitive cells called cones. These cells are responsible for providing color vision, and allows for the recognition of faces and other objects. The rest of your retina – the area surrounding the macula – contains rods, photosensitive cells that provide black-and-white shading, and allows your side (peripheral) vision to detect movements and shapes.

If a hole develops in your macula, your ability to see objects head-on can quickly become compromised. Similar to macular degeneration, macular holes are an age-related eye condition that is most common in people over 60 years old. However, unlike macular degeneration, macular holes do not develop as a result of genetics or lifestyle choices. Instead, they are caused by factors such as:

  • Eye injury
  • Diabetes
  • Detached retina
  • Severe myopia
  • Macular pucker
  • Vitreous separation or shrinkage

Macular holes can be treated through a vitrectomy. During this procedure, your ophthalmologist will remove your vitreous gel and replace it with a mix of air and gas that is designed to put pressure on your macula, causing the hole to heal itself. Over time, the gas/air will be gradually replaced by natural eye fluids again, and your vision will be restored.

If you are suffering symptoms of macular holes, please contact an experienced ophthalmologist in your area today to schedule an initial consultation.

Eye Diseases on the Rise in the US

According to a report issued by Prevent Blindness America and the National Eye Institute, eye diseases – including those that cause blindness – are on the rise in the US. The research shows that since 2000, there has been a marked increase in cataracts, glaucoma, macular degeneration, and diabetic retinopathy.

Diabetic retinopathy has increased an alarming 89% over the last 12 years, and an estimated eight million people 40 and over now have this disease, which can lead to blindness.

Other results show:

  • A 25% increase in macular degeneration affecting more than two million people over the age of 50
  • A 22% increase in open angle glaucoma affecting nearly three million people 40-years-old and older
  • A 19% increase in cataracts affecting more than 24 million people 40 and older

While vision can be restored if the patient has cataracts, provided they are caught in time, glaucoma can only be treated and the pressure relieved. The high percentage of diabetic retinopathy cases seems to be due to the diabetes epidemic plaguing the country, especially among minorities. A clinical correspondent for the American Academy of Ophthalmology calls the results “scary” and says they are “proof we are in a losing battle.” She also says the he increase in macular degeneration “mirrors the booming aging population.”

Protecting the eyes against these and other diseases is very important. Getting regular eye exams yearly can help head off any serious problems you may encounter later on in life. Eating healthy, getting your blood glucose levels checked, and talking to your healthcare provider, as well as your ophthalmologist are things you can do to keep your risks of eye diseases low.

If you believe you are at risk for these or other eye diseases, please find an experienced eye doctor in your area through eyes.com today.

Outlines and Light can be Seen by Two Blind Men after Eye Implants

In a UK clinical trial, two men who had experienced blindness for many years regained “useful vision” after receiving retinal implants, according to the Guardian. The eye implant is a tiny chip inserted in the retina.

Both men experienced progressive vision loss from retinitis pigmentosa (RP). RP is an inherited eye disease involving a damaged retina. Other eye conditions that may lead to vision loss include:

  • Age-related macular degeneration
  • Cataracts
  • Glaucoma
  • Diabetic retinopathy

The chip does not restore vision as most people see it, but both men said they could detect the outlines of certain objects and could see light, an exciting advancement for blindness treatment. In the article, one of the men reportedly said he dreamed in color, something he said he hadn’t experienced for 25 years.

The chip is connected to a power supply, which is implanted behind the ear. The chip contains 1,500 electronic elements that detect light. These light-sensing elements essentially replace the damaged cells in the retina. When light enters the eye, the chip turns the light into electrical pulses, which travel up the optic nerve to the brain, where the electrical information is interpreted as an image.

According to the Guardian, this retinal chip has been in clinical trials for six years.

To learn more about blindness and possible treatments for vision loss, please find an eye doctor in your area.

Use of Bevacizumab as Alternative Therapy for Retinopathy in Premature Babies

Bevacizumab (Avastin) has been used as an off-label drug for the treatment of wet macular degeneration due to its much cheaper price. However, it is also useful as an off-label alternative therapy in treating retinopathy of prematurity (ROP) in premature babies in some children’s hospitals.

A medical team from the University of Texas Health Science Center, Houston Medical School, found that bevacizumab is effective long-term and is safe as long as strict protocols are followed, including administration by trained ophthalmologists in a sterile environment. Because the drug is not approved for this kind of therapy by the Food and Drug Administration, parental consent must be given. Still, given the options, bevacizumab is probably the safest.

According to Dr. Helen Mintz-Hittner, the choices in treatment are cryotherapy, which destroys the anterior portion of the retina; laser therapy, which is still destructive; or injection of bevacizumab, which grows the vessels due to injected the antibody to vascular endothelial growth factor (VEGF).

Advantages to using bevacizumab include prevention of reintubation, reduced exposure to anesthesia, shorter hospital stay, reduced risk of destruction of the peripheral retina, prevention of loss of the visual field, and advance of ROP is immediately stopped with one dose, as well as a risk of progression to stage 3 ROP.

ROP develops progressively after an infant is born prematurely. When too much oxygen is supplied to the retina, VEGF diminishes during the first stage. As the eye and retina grow, the edge becomes hypoxic. In the next stage, oxygen goes down and VEGF increases. This leads to neovascularization, which advances the disease. This is the stage in which bevacizumab is injected.

In the study, 150 infants were given one of three treatments for ROP. Sixty-four of the infants received treatment for zone 1 ROP: 31 with bevacizumab and 33 with laser treatment. The infants were then looked at six months later. A recurrence of ROP was seen in only two of the infants who were given the antibody, while 23 infants in the laser group had a recurrence.

The future of treating infants with ROP using off-label drug therapy seems bright, but there is a lot of research that still needs to be done. It’s also a matter of timing. Treating too early may lead to severe retinal dystrophy, but too late may result in accelerated retinal detachment, according to Dr. Mintz-Hittner.

If you would like to find out more about ROP or treatment for other eye disorders, please find an experienced ophthalmologist in your area through eyes.com today.

Alcohol Consumption and Vision Problems

Light consumption of alcohol may temporarily decrease visual acuity, but does not generally result in any lasting damage. Long term, excessive alcohol consumption on the other hand can do tremendous damage to your vision and even lead to eye diseases and conditions that can permanently affect your vision.

Alcohol has been linked to temporary vision problems including:

  • Blurred vision
  • Double vision
  • Reduced night vision
  • Slow pupil reaction
  • Decreased peripheral vision
  • Decreased contrast sensitivity

These conditions generally improve as alcohol leaves your system. However, studies suggest that heavy alcohol consumption can also lead to optic neuropathy.

Optic neuropathy occurs when the optic nerve is damaged. The consequences of optic neuropathy can include a permanent loss of peripheral vision or even complete blindness.

New studies indicate that toxins from cigarette smoke and alcohol can have an adverse effect on your optic nerve and may be a cause of this disorder. Decreasing your intake of alcohol and quitting smoking can help improve both short term and long term vision, and keep your body healthier as an added benefit.

If you are suffering from diminished vision, please visit eyes.com to find an ophthalmologist in your area today.

Am I Too Old for LASIK Eye Surgery?

Although people over the age of 40 are more prone to developing eye disorders and diseases, your age alone does not necessarily disqualify you from LASIK eye surgery. Your ophthalmologist will evaluate several different factors about your medical history and the overall health of your eyes in order to determine whether or not you are a good LASIK candidate. Some older patients who aren’t good candidates for LASIK may be excellent candidates for other types of Laser Vision Correction.

If you are an older patient who is considering Laser Vision Correction, it is important to understand that full correction may not be possible. Eventually, most people over 40 years old will run into presbyopia – a problem where the lenses of the eyes harden and cannot focus on near objects anymore. This makes it necessary for you to use of bifocals, trifocals, or reading glasses. Since presbyopia is not a corneal condition, LASIK cannot correct it.

Because of this, older patients usually have two options with LASIK eye surgery:

  • Correcting one eye for distance, and one eye for near vision (monovision)
  • Correcting both eyes for distance (patient will still need reading glasses for near vision)

If you have further questions about LASIK eye surgery for older patients, contact an experienced ophthalmologist in your area today.

Drug May Help Prevent the Spread of Eye Cancer

Researchers at the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, Missouri have just released a study showing that histone deacetylase (HDAC) inhibitors, common in anti-seizure medications, prevent the spread of uveal melanoma, the most common type of eye cancer. According to principal investigator, J. William Harbour, MD, “Melanoma in general, and uveal melanoma in particular, is notoriously difficult to treat once it has metastasized and grown in a distant organ.” This means that eye cancer can easily become deadly without prompt and proper treatment.

Slowing Tumor Growth

According to the study, HDAC inhibitors are capable of reversing the molecular signature of uveal melanoma, changing the way key genes are expressed and rendering the tumor less aggressive. While these findings are preliminary, the prospect of slowing the progression of eye cancer is certainly exciting news to ophthalmologists and oncologists alike.

Clinical trials are set to begin within the next 12 months. Because HDAC inhibitors are already on the market and are known to have relatively few, mild side effects, the lead researchers do not expect much trouble getting FDA approval for this new use.

If you are suffering from any vision disorders, please use the eye doctor locator at eyes.com to find an experienced ophthalmologist in your area today.

Photosensitive Epilepsy

With the premiere of the long-awaited (by some) Twilight: Breaking Dawn Part 1, several individuals have reported experiencing photosensitive epileptic seizures as a result of the flashing lights during the tense birthing scene in the movie. The instances occur due to the bright flashing lights of red and white, which can cause what are known as photosensitive epilepsy or photosensitive seizures.

Understanding Photosensitive Epilepsy

Photosensitive epilepsy is when your brain has an abnormal response to a certain sequence of flashing lights. The exact mechanism is not well understood, but it seems to be caused when flashing lights trigger a synchronized response in brain cells dedicated to processing visual signals. This synchronized response works like a laser to cause overexcitement in adjacent nerve clusters, which soon leads to the entire brain becoming seized, which results in blackouts and often motor responses.

What Light Triggers Photosensitive Epilepsy?

There is no single light or pattern of light that triggers photosensitive epilepsy. Many photosensitives will have trouble with a specific pattern of light. The chief frequencies for risk seem to be 15-20 Hz, but what frequency will stimulate an epileptic response varies from person to person and even from instance to instance for the same person.

One key seems to be the relaxation rate of the visual processing center of the brain. If processing cells remain excited for longer, it allows an accumulation of excited cells that ultimately leads to seizures.

Other photosensitives will experience problems with only a certain wavelength of light. Light of ~700 nm has been identified as a specific trigger for seizures. This is in the red part of the spectrum, so flashing red lights are often to blame for photosensitive seizures. Scientists suspect this is because light of this wavelength is processed by a special type of cone which is visually separate from other light-sensitive cones on the retina. There are three types of color-sensitive cones in the retina: red, blue, and green. Blue and green cones obviously have a significant amount of spectral overlap, but red is separate. According to the theory, when cones of one color are stimulated without stimulation of adjacent cones, the stimulus is magnified, which can lead to overexcitation. Testing the theory, researchers were able to trigger “epileptiform discharges” by stimulating only the green cones.

Other people have a quantity-of-light threshold. For these people it is the brightness of the light that ultimately triggers the epileptic response by overexciting all visual cells simultaneously.

What Stimulates Photosensitive Epilepsy?

Other than Breaking Dawn, some of the stimuli that have been shown to cause photosensitive seizures include:

  • Television
  • Video games
  • Computer monitors
  • Sunlight on water
  • Light passing through picket fence posts
  • Strobe lights at a club or theatrical performance
  • Patterns of black and white lines, especially whirling or dartboard patterns

Television is the most common stimulus for photosensitive epilepsy. Half of sufferers in Europe report their first seizure after watching television.

Who Is at Risk

The most common victims of this type of seizure seem to be children, usually appearing between the ages of 8 to 20, with a peak around age 12 or 13, and a link with puberty has been suggested. Girls are more likely to be affected than boys. Overall the condition affects about 1 in 4,000 or 5,000 people, and about 5% of epileptics. There is some evidence to suggest that the condition may pass with age.

How to Avoid Seizures

You don’t have to skip Breaking Dawn to avoid the seizure risk, though if you’re looking for an excuse it’s certainly a good one. Instead, you can just cover your eyes during the scene, which is only a few seconds long, and has enough audio clues to ensure you won’t miss any information. For added safety, you can cover your eyes through the whole movie and you probably also won’t miss anything.

Here are some tips to avoid seizures in other circumstances:

  • Keep your distance from flickering media (about 8 feet from the TV and a foot from your computer monitor). If you have to approach the TV, cover one eye–seizures require stimuli from both eyes.
  • Make sure your monitor’s settings do not have too high a contrast and the refresh rate is at least 60 Hz.
  • Always watch TV, play video games, or work on the computer in a well-lit room
  • Reduce your exposure to fluorescent lights and make sure they get replaced when they begin to flicker at a visible rate
  • Wear polarized blue sunglasses when exposed to flickering light
  • Call ahead if you are attending a venue or performance that may have flashing lights

If you suffer from photosensitive seizures, talk to an eye doctor or neurologist about treatment options.

Happy Halloween; Don’t Go Blind

Once again, ophthalmologists are warning people who are deciding to dress up for Halloween this year to be careful with decorative contact lenses. All of these lenses may look great with scary costumes (vampires are a very popular choice with these lenses), but it’s what might happen to your eyes as a result of wearing them that’s truly frightening.

Contact lenses are prescription only, fitted by a trained ophthalmologist. Sticking ill fitting, over-the-counter lenses into your eyes may cause pain and inflammation. Redness, tearing, and serious pain are not uncommon. These risks can lead to corneal abrasions and blindness.

Goopy, pus-filled eyes, and deep red around the pupils is truly a terrifying site to behold. For you, those around you, and your eye doctor eye infections can be very difficult to deal with. Prescription eye drops, sitting in the dark to avoid light sensitivity (sort of like vampires), and more is not worth it.

Although some of these lenses have been banned for several years, and contacts in general have been classified as medical devices by the FDA since 2005, it is still very easy to get them from costume shops, pop-up Halloween stores, and even beauty supply stores. Know that you risk blindness for one or two days of looking scary.

Eye health is important to remember all year long. When Halloween comes around, if your perfect costume requires you to put these decorative lenses into your eyes, you may want to speak with an eye doctor before, and not after, the big Halloween party.

If you are suffering any of the side effects of placing decorative contacts into your eyes, please find an experienced eye doctor in your area immediately to avoid serious injury or blindness.