Puzzling and Rare Eye Disease Runs Rampant in One Iowa Family

Jerry Jackson of Burlington, Iowa. Photo via Charlie Litchfield/Register Photos.

Jerry Jackson of Burlington, Iowa. Photo via Charlie Litchfield/Register Photos.

68 year-old Jerry Jackson started seeing spots one day in 1967 while driving home from work. Doctors determined he had bleeding and inflammation in his eyes, but were puzzled by what could have caused it. Within a decade, Jerry was blind. When a teenage cousin developed the same issue, doctors suspected a genetic condition.

Doctors later discovered a mutated gene in Jerry’s family that had caused what doctors now know as Autosomal Dominant Neovascular Inflammatory Vitreoretinopathy (ADNIV). It is a very rare genetic eye disease – while more than 60 of Jerry’s family members have the disease, only 123 total diagnosed cases exist in the United States.

Because the gene mutation was present on both Jerry’s mother and father’s sides of the family, his extended family now carries a 50-50 chance of going blind. Most family members tend to begin losing vision in their 50s or 60s, but some, like Jerry’s daughters Shawnna and Shannon, started going blind in their 30s.

Jerry and his family have been lending their time to researchers at the University of Iowa who are seeking to better understand ADNIV. The University of Iowa is currently the only institution studying ADNIV.

Last year, researchers had a breakthrough, discovering the gene mutation that causes ADNIV. They hope it will be the first step toward a cure, and perhaps provide clues to other more common eye diseases that damage the retina, including diabetic retinopathy, the leading cause of blindness in the world.

Researchers Create Molecular Map for Eye Disease

The schematic shows the three regions of the choroid, in relation to the entire eye (left) and as regions (fovea, macula and periphery). Images courtesy of Vinit Mahajan lab, University of Iowa

The schematic shows the three regions of the choroid, in relation to the entire eye (left) and as regions (fovea, macula and periphery). Images courtesy of Vinit Mahajan lab, University of Iowa

Researchers at the University of Iowa have created a detailed map that will enable them to figure out which proteins play a critical role in vision loss and eye disease.

“This molecular map now gives us clues why certain areas of the choroid are more sensitive to certain diseases, as well as where to target therapies and why,” says Vinit Mahajan, assistant professor in ophthalmology at the UI and corresponding author on the paper, published in the journal JAMA Ophthalmology. “Before this, we just didn’t know what was where.”

This research is enabling scientists to see which proteins are more abundant in certain areas and why – which wasn’t possible before. For example, a protein known as CFH helps prevent a molecular cascade that can lead to age-related macular degeneration (AMD). The researchers have learned, thanks to the map, that CFH is most abundant in the fovea, thereby furthering understanding of the disease pathology.

For more information about the study, visit http://now.uiowa.edu/2014/07/map-eye-disease.

Man Going Blind Takes Ultimate ‘Sight Visit’ to Grand Canyon

When Dan Fingland was 16, doctors diagnosed him with retinitis pigmentosa, an incurable, degenerative disease that would one day leave him blind.

Dan set about to see all that he could, before it was too late. His dream was to see the Grand Canyon. Now, at the age of 22, thanks to the Visual Experience Foundation, Dan was able to finally see his dream destination. The foundation treated Dan to a helicopter tour of the Grand Canyon, including Lake Mead, the Hoover Dam and the Colorado River.

The Visual Experience Foundation is a nonprofit organization with a mission to provide visual experiences to those who have been diagnosed with unstoppable vision loss.

Six Tips for Maintaining Safe and Healthy Eyes While Traveling

Dr. Anne Sumers with an orangutan while traveling in Borneo. Photo via Miami County Republic.

Dr. Anne Sumers with an orangutan while traveling in Borneo. Photo via Miami County Republic.

Eye injuries and eye emergencies can be even more frightening when you’re far from home. To help keep your eyes safe while traveling, here are six tips from comprehensive ophthalmologist Dr. Anne Sumers, a world traveler and clinical spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology.

  1. Bring backup lenses and/or glasses. “When I was 14, my glasses fell off and sank to the bottom of the ocean as I was looking at fish in Greece,” says Sumers. “While everyone else toured the Acropolis, my mom and I had to spend the day in search of an English-speaking ophthalmologist and a very fast optician.”
  2. Don’t wait until you get home to see an ophthalmologist. Even small problems can become big problems if left untreated. If a problem arises while on vacation, you can visit EyeSmart’s Find an Eye M.D., which has an international list of all American Academy of Ophthalmology’s members.
  3. Keep your eyes lubricated while flying. People’s eyes can dry out on the plane. Remove your contact lenses if you plan to sleep on long flights, and bring artificial tears to combat dry eyes.
  4. Never use water to clean your contact lenses. Always travel with your contact carrying case and an extra bottle of contact solution – that way if one spills, you have a backup. Never store your contacts in water – water isn’t sterile and may even have bacteria that can cause serious eye infections.
  5. Don’t forget your prescription. If you take prescription eye drops, be sure to bring extra unopened bottles with you. “Do not assume that a prescription from the United States can be filled in Britain or that the same drops are even available in France,” Sumers says. “If you need eye drops for allergies, glaucoma or dry eye, be sure to bring them with you, and bring extras.”
  6. Don’t ignore vision changes. “One patient called me because he was having new floaters, flashes and blurred vision,” Sumers says. “He wasn’t very concerned because he wasn’t having any pain, so he wanted to schedule an appointment for the following week when he’d be home from vacation. But the symptoms were signs of a retinal detachment. Fortunately, he saw a local ophthalmologist and his retinal detachment was treated the next day.” Additionally, vision symptoms can indicate other health problems; for example, blurred vision can indicate a hypertensive crisis, a stroke or out-of-control diabetes.

Why You Should Rethink Wearing Contact Lenses while Sleeping

Photo credit: Jupiterimages via Getty Images

Photo credit: Jupiterimages via Getty Images

Many contact lens wearers occasionally fall asleep while wearing their contact lenses – and some will even admit to doing this regularly.

Unfortunately, this practice can be very harmful to your eyes. For one, it can deprive your corneas of oxygen. While you’re awake, your contact lenses move about a millimeter each time you blink, which allows the cornea to get oxygen. When you sleep, you don’t blink, and the lenses form a barrier between your cornea and your tears, which the eyes depend on for nourishment while sleeping.

Your eyes are also more susceptible to infection if you wear your lenses to sleep. According to a 2012 study in the Journal of Ophthalmology, the risk for corneal infection increased 6.5 times with even occasional overnight lens use.

Even with contact lenses that have been FDA-approved for overnight wear, the FDA still recommends that people remove these lenses overnight at least once per week. Dr. Rebecca Taylor, M.D., an ophthalmologist and a spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) recommends not wearing even these lenses overnight if you can help it, as there is still a risk for infection.

For more information on proper contact lens care, visit the AAO website.

Back-to-School Guide – What You Should Know About Pink Eye

pink eye

Image via AAO.org

According to a study published in the American Journal of Infection Control, 3 million days are missed every year in U.S. public schools as a result of acute conjunctivitis, or pink eye. The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers the following tips to help parents and teachers understand pink eye and avoid its spread in the classroom: How is pink eye spread?

  • Direct contact with an infected individual; usually through hand-to-eye contact.
  • Spread of the infection from bacteria living in the person’s own nose/sinus.
  • Not cleaning contact lenses properly and using poorly fitting contact lenses or decorative contacts.
  • Children are usually most susceptible to getting pink eye from bacteria or viruses because they are in close contact with so many others in school or day care centers and because they don’t practice good hygiene.

How can you prevent pink eye? Practicing good hygiene can help prevent the spread. If a child is infected, take the following precautions to avoid infecting others:

  • The child – and all people in contact with the child – should wash their hands often.
  • Avoid having the child touch his or her eyes.
  • Make sure to avoid reusing towels, washcloths, handkerchiefs and tissues used to wipe the child’s face and eyes.
  • Change the child’s pillowcase frequently.
  • Keep children home from school or daycare until their conjunctivitis has cleared, to avoid spreading the infection.

For more information about pink eye, visit the AAO’s website.

Amazing Animal Eyes

Caiman eye. Photo by Suren Manvelyan.

Caiman eye. Photo by Suren Manvelyan.

Armenian photographer Suren Manvelyan has produced a series on animal eyes that is truly remarkable. The series includes macro photographs of llamas, parrots, lizards and more, and demonstrates how animals’ eyes are perfectly adapted to serve functions like cutting down glare or seeing at night.

For more stunning photos, visit Manvelyan’s website at http://www.surenmanvelyan.com/eyes/

Tips for Avoiding Computer Eyestrain

Photo via the American Academy of Ophthalmology

Photo via the American Academy of Ophthalmology

Staring at a computer screen can make your eyes feel dry and tired. Studies show we blink about half as often while using computers and other digital screens. The American Academy of Ophthalmology offers the following tips for reducing eyestrain:

  • Post a note that reminds you to blink next to the screen as a reminder.
  • Sit about 25 inches from the screen and position the screen so your eyes are focused slightly downward.
  • Reduce glare by lighting the area properly and use a screen filter if needed.
  • Take regular breaks from the computer.
  • Get enough sleep at night.
  • Follow the 20-20-20 rule: look at something 20 feet away for 20 seconds every 20 minutes.
  • Use artificial tears to refresh your eyes when they feel dry.

For more information, please visit the AAO’s website.

Six Smart Things College Students Should Do for Their Eyes



Photo credit: Flickr Creative Commons

According to the National Center for Education Statistics, a record 21.7 million students will head to college this fall. Caring for their vision is not often top of mind for college students, but it should be. Crowded classes and dorm rooms can be a breeding ground for infectious eye diseases, and computer use and reading have been linked to poor eyesight.

The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) offers the following tips for students on protecting their eyesight:

  1. Don’t shower or swim with contact lenses. Exposing contact lenses to water increases your risk of contacting an infection. Do not wear contact lenses while swimming or in the shower, and always use a sterile contact lens solution to clean contacts; never clean them with water.
  2. Get outside often. Time spent indoors reading or using a computer has been linked to a higher risk of nearsightedness — or myopia — while other research has shown that spending time outdoors can protect vision from getting worse.
  3. Wash your hands frequently. Washing hands with soap can stop the spread of infectious diseases, including conjunctivitis, or pink eye, which is easily spread in college dorms.
  4. Give your eyes a rest. To help avoid eyestrain, follow the 20-20-20 rule: look at something 20 feet away every 20 minutes for 20 seconds.
  5. Don’t share makeup. Bacteria grow easily in eye makeup. Avoid the spread of infection by only using your own eye makeup and throwing it away after three months. If you develop an eye infection, immediately throw away all your eye makeup.
  6. Protect your eyes while playing sports. Sports-related eye injuries happen most often in sports such as baseball, basketball and lacrosse. To keep stray balls and elbows from hitting your eyes, consider wearing polycarbonate sports glasses.

For more information, visit the AAO’s website.

Blind Athlete Trains to Be First to Kayak the Grand Canyon

Erik Weihenmayer

Erik Weihenmayer. Photo credit: Men’s Journal.

Erik Weihenmayer doesn’t let vision loss stop him from reaching his dreams. Weihenmayer, who lost his vision to retinoschisis in his teens, became the first blind person to summit Mount Everest in 2001. Since then, he has scaled the Seven Summits, competed in mountain bike racing, and even starred in a reality show: Expedition Impossible.

Now Erik has a new challenge: to be the first blind person to kayak the Grand Canyon. He’s been training for the past several years in order to conquer the 277 miles and class IV rapids in the Grand Canyon. This is a challenge for the most experienced kayaker, let alone one without vision.

I wish Erik the best as he takes on this daring challenge.