Glaucoma Doesn’t Just Affect the Elderly

Olivia Goree and son Christian. Photo courtesy of Loyola University Medical Center.

Olivia Goree and son Christian. Photo courtesy of Loyola University Medical Center.

While most people consider glaucoma a geriatric disease – after all, it’s largely diagnosed in people older than 60 – the disease occasionally affects infants and children too.

When Christian Goree was just six weeks old, his mother Olivia noticed something seemed different about his eyes. Unable to shake the feeling that something was seriously wrong, Goree took him to the Loyola University Medical center where she was shocked to learn Christian has glaucoma.

“I was really surprised,” recalled Goree, who said she had only ever heard of the vision-robbing disease affecting older adults.

To halt the progression of the disease, Christian underwent surgery. Doctors implanted tiny silicone tubing in his eyes, which allows fluid to drain properly.

Christian now wears glasses and behaves like a typical 18 month-old boy – running around with lots of energy. And while his medical care is not over – Christian wears glasses and will need more surgery in the future – thanks to his mother’s intuition, the physicians at Loyola were able to preserve much of Christian’s vision.

For more information about pediatric glaucoma, visit the American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus.

Smart Glasses Could Help the Vision Impaired to Navigate

Image credit: Stephen Hicks via NBCnews.com

Image credit: Stephen Hicks via NBCnews.com

Researchers from Oxford University in England are developing a set of “smart glasses” that use cameras and software to help the vision impaired navigate unfamiliar territory.

The glasses operate by recognizing objects and displaying them on the lenses of the glasses, or translating signs into speech. Two small cameras mounted on the glasses capture pictures just as human eyes do. The spectacles then display the information from the cameras on transparent LED displays on the lenses, so the wearer can see the enhanced image using their remaining sight. Meanwhile, a set of headphones takes text and translates it into speech. The glasses are also equipped with GPS, a compass and a gyroscope that measures the orientation of the glasses.

In the future, researchers hope to develop additional features for the glasses, including levels of brightness to show depth, movement detection, and the ability to provide GPS directions via the headphones.

Tips for Parents with Vision Impairment

Yvonne Felix and Family

Photo: Yvonne Felix, her husband, Joe, and sons Thomas and Noah, via Aaron Harris/The Toronto Star

Having any kind of vision loss can make life more difficult to navigate – but having limited or no sight and raising young children at the same time can prove daunting to even the most patient parent. Vision-impaired parents must take a few extra steps to keep everyone safe, happy and healthy.

Yvonne Felix, a Toronto-area mother of two, is a living example of this challenge. Since childhood, Felix has had Stargardt disease, which has destroyed her central vision and left her legally blind. To navigate the challenge of parenting two young boys without her sight, Felix offers a few tips that may be useful to other vision-impaired parents:

  • Baby proof your house. Install gates on stairs, deadbolt locks on exterior doors, and baby locks/latches. Lock hazardous things such as medicine, cleaners, and knives behind baby-proofed doors.
  • Sing a cleanup song to make it fun for kids to put toys away, so there are no tripping hazards for the vision-impaired parent. Put shoes and coats away as soon as you arrive home (this can also help in the morning rush).
  • Set up diaper stations on each floor and put all the diapering supplies in a basket to avoid having to search for things.
  • When your toddler insists on walking and not riding in the stroller, use a baby tether. This is perfect for sidewalks, parks and the mall.
  • Most importantly – ask for help. Every parent needs some help — not just those with low vision. It helps to be specific about your needs.

For more tips, see: https://nfb.org/images/nfb/publications/brochures/blindparents/parentingwithoutsight.html

Computers May Aid in Better Understanding of Dry Eye Syndrome

Researcher Kara Maki. Photo courtesy of Rochester Institute of Technology.

Researcher Kara Maki. Photo courtesy of Rochester Institute of Technology.

A recent National Science Foundation study, published in the journal Physics of Fluids, sought to understand the basic motion of tear film traversing the eye and suggests that computer simulations could some day result in treatments for dry eye syndrome by mapping the way tears move across the surface of the eye.

Dry eye is a chronic condition without a cure and is attributed to a lack of tears or tears evaporating too quickly. It causes a burning, gritty sensation that can impair vision and damage the cornea. According to the National Institutes of Health, nearly 5 million people age 50 and over in the United States suffer from dry eye.

To better understand dry eye, researcher Kara Maki developed a mathematical model to simulate the direction tear film travels when entering the eye from the lacrimal glands above the upper eyelid. Using a software program, she recreated the flow of tears on the surface of an open eye, moving from the upper corner and draining through the ducts at the opposite corner.

“One thing we were able to find is that when your eyes are open, the tears get thin right along the edge of the eye, and that is referred to as the ‘black line,’” Maki said. “That has been seen clinically and can be reproduced in our simulations.”

According to Maki, “We’re hoping if we can understand better the basic dynamics of the tear film, then we can start to understand what goes wrong if you have dry eye and start to think about potential cures by studying simulations.”

While more research is needed, it’s fascinating to know we may be one step closer to more effective treatment of dry eye.

“The nice thing about having a model is that you can make unrealistic things happen,” Maki said. “For example, we can flood the eye and see where the tears go. Or we can look at what happens when the drainage holes are plugged. Where does the fluid go? You can start to explore these things in a safe way.”

11 Year-Old Facing Blindness Raises Funds to Help Others

11 year-old Lilly Diuble of Manchester, Mich. Photo courtesy of Courtney Sacco, AP.

11 year-old Lilly Diuble of Manchester, Mich. Photo courtesy of Courtney Sacco, AP.

Diagnosed with a rare degenerative disease called Usher Syndrome, an 11 year-old Michigan girl has been losing her vision from a young age and will one day go completely blind. But that hasn’t managed to slow her down.

While the prospect of losing her sight both scares and frustrates her, sixth-grader Lilly Diuble has chosen to focus her energy on helping others with similar conditions. When she was in just second grade, Lilly decided to raise money for the Foundation Fighting Blindness. Thanks to the help of her classmates and family members, she was able to raise $16,000 in the first year. Surprised and inspired by the response from the community, Lilly and her mom decided to continue raising money for the foundation, and have totaled nearly $100,000 in donations in the past five years.

What a brave and generous girl. I wish her the best in her continued fundraising efforts.

Scientists Make Artificial Vision Look More Natural

Scientists used an electrode array to record activity from retinal ganglion cells and feed it back to them, reproducing the cells’ responses to visual stimulation. Photo via EJ Chichilnisky, Stanford University

Scientists used an electrode array to record activity from retinal ganglion cells and feed it back to them, reproducing the cells’ responses to visual stimulation. Photo via EJ Chichilnisky, Stanford University

In recent years, the bionic eye has gone from concept to reality — restoring very limited vision to those who have lost their sight due to diseases such as retinitis pigmentosa. Though remarkable, the bionic eye still has its limitations. While it allows people to see large objects, details such as a loved one’s face are still too blurry to distinguish.

In a recent study, Scientists at Stanford University are hoping to improve this level of detail, by targeting the neural tissue at the back of the eye that converts light into electrical activity.

“We’ve found that we can reproduce natural patterns of activity in the retina with exquisite precision,” said E.J. Chichilnisky, Ph.D., a professor of neurosurgery at Stanford’s School of Medicine and Hansen Experimental Physics Laboratory. The study was published in Neuron and was funded in part by NIH’s National Eye Institute (NEI) and National Institute of Biomedical Imaging and Bioengineering (NIBIB).

The new studyshows that patterned electrical stimulation in isolated retinal tissue can allow the person to see details such as shape and depth by activating the right cells at the right time.

The team focused their efforts on a type of retinal ganglion cell called parasol cells, which are known to be important for detecting movement, direction, and speed. When a moving object passes through visual space, the cells are activated in waves across the retina.

“There is a long way to go between these results and making a device that produces meaningful, patterned activity over a large region of the retina in a human patient,” Dr. Chichilnisky said. “But if we can handle the many technical hurdles ahead, we may be able to speak to the nervous system in its own language, and precisely reproduce its normal function.”

For more information about the study, visit http://www.nih.gov/news/health/jun2014/nei-05.htm.

New Research Explains How UV Exposure May Contribute to Cataracts

UV exposure may contribute to cataracts

Photo credit: Morguefile

A new study, funded in part by the National Eye Institute (NEI), explains how the sun’s damaging rays can increase the risk of cataracts, firming up a link between ultraviolet (UV) rays and oxidative stress, the harmful chemical reactions that can occur when our cells consume oxygen and other fuels to produce energy.

When a cataract forms, the proteins inside the lens cells show signs of oxidative damage and clump together, scattering light instead of transmitting it. How this oxidative damage occurs in the lens, where cells receive little or no oxygen, had not been explained. The study theorizes that oxidative stress is responsible for this clumping effect, essentially substituting UV light for oxygen to trigger harmful oxidative reactions in the lens. And while prior studies have supported this theory, this new study has unveiled a play-by-play of the chemical changes induced in the lens by UV light.

In this new study, researchers tested the effects of UVA light on proteins and chemicals found in lens cells. They found that in the absence of oxygen, UVA light can trigger a chain reaction that begins with amino acid derivatives called kynurenines and ends with protein glycation in the lens, which is typical of cataracts.

While UV light has long been suspected to play a role in cataract formation, this study firms up the link, and reiterates the importance of wearing UV-blocking sunglasses to protect your eyes the sun’s harmful rays.

Summer Household Eye Safety Tips

summer eye safety tips

Photo credit: Morguefile

According to the National Safety Council (NSC), accidents around the home are among the highest categories contributing to eye injuries. Whether related to summer sports activities, do-it-yourself work on homes or cars, cooking accidents, chemical splashes from pesticides or fertilizers, or flying debris from the weed-whacker, it is important to follow certain steps to minimize discomfort and damage from the injury and to avoid making things worse. Following are some tips from the NSC for treating eye injuries:

Chemical splashes:

  • Don’t squeeze your eyes shut; hold them open with your thumb and forefinger and flush eyes with cool, clean water for 15-20 minutes.
  • Do not attempt to neutralize the chemical with another chemical or remedy.
  • Seek medical help as soon as possible, and bring the chemical container or its label, if possible.

Flying particles:

  • Do not try to remove anything embedded in the eye. Doing so may cause further damage.
  • Do not pull or squeeze the eye.
  • Cover both eyes to prevent movement.
  • Seek medical help as soon as possible.

Burns or radiation injuries:

  • If the eyes are expose to intense heat, flames, lasers or welding radiation, apply ice packs to relieve the pain.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

Impact injuries to the eyes:

  • Apply ice packs to control swelling and relieve the pain.
  • Cover both eyes to prevent movement.
  • Seek medical attention as soon as possible.

For more safety tips, visit the National Safety Council’s website. Have a safe and happy summer!

Study Shows Children Can Be Tested for Color Blindness by Age Four

color blindness in children

Photo credit: Morguefile

A study published in April Journal of Ophthalmology found that Caucasian boys have the highest prevalence of color-blindness among four major ethnicities, with one in 20 testing color blind. Color blindness in boys was lowest in African-Americans. The study confirmed that girls have a much lower prevalence of color blindness than boys. The study also suggests that color vision testing in children can be done as early as age four, and that early diagnosis may help color blind children succeed in school.

If the student and teachers are unaware of a child’s color vision deficiency, the child may be incorrectly placed in the wrong academic track, due to the child’s struggle to comprehend academic materials using color.

“It’s not that the child is not smart enough or bright enough, it’s that they see the world a little differently,” said Rohit Varma, M.D., chairman of the ophthalmology department at the University of Southern California Keck School of Medicine and director of the USC Eye Institute. “Labeling a child as not smart or bright enough is a huge stigma for the child and causes significant anxiety for the parents and family.”

The study was conducted by the Multi-Ethnic Pediatric Eye Disease Study Group, and tested more than 4,000 California children, age three to six for color blindness.

For more information, visit the American Academy of Ophthalmology’s website.

AAO Finds Early Treatment Reduces Probability of Blindness from Glaucoma by Half

AAO

Photo credit: American Academy of Ophthalmology

A recent study from the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) has found that the probability of blindness from glaucoma has been reduced by nearly 50 percent since 1980. Researchers speculate new treatment options, better management techniques, and changes to diagnostic criteria may be responsible for the reduction.

According to the National Institutes of Health, glaucoma affects more than 2.7 million individuals aged 40 and older in the United States and 60.5 million people globally.

Patients should receive a thorough eye exam once a year, especially those with a family history of glaucoma. Eye exams enable early detection and provide ophthalmologists with the opportunity to recommend treatment options that may reduce the risk of blindness from the disease.

We’ve come a long way in the prevention, treatment and in many cases, cures, of certain eye diseases, and I hope to see a follow up study in the future that shows an even greater reduction in blindness from glaucoma.