Detecting disease through the eyes

July 15, 2009 High blood pressure can cause many symptoms in the eye, including narrowed blood vessels, fluid oozing from blood vessels, spots on the retina, swelling of the macula and optic nerve and bleeding in the back of the eye (Source: WebMD). Constricted vessels in the eye may point to stroke, since blood vessels in the eye are connected to vessels in the brain, where stroke occurs. "We're seeing a lot of 'healthy people,' but we are testing their retinas and evaluating them and catching disease early, when we can make a huge difference," Gregg Ossip, an optometrist and CEO of Ossip Optometry in Indianapolis, Ind., told Ivanhoe.

SEEING INSIDE THE EYES: Traditional eye screening is done with an ophthalmoscope, which is a small lighted device that gives optometrists of a view of the retina one small piece at a time. Optometrists may dilate the pupil before using the ophthalmoscope to get a better view of blood vessels and other components of the retina. A new screening device called Optomap gives optometrists an image of the entire retina at one time. By scanning the retina using a laser, it provides an instant, high-resolution, 200-degree digital image of the area. To capture an image using this technique, an optometrist doesn't have to dilate the patient's pupils beforehand.

The Optomap system has proven particularly useful in screening for diabetic retinopathy, a condition that damages the retina and can lead to blindness. It's the leading cause of blindness in Americans between the ages of 20 and 74. Annual exams and screenings reduce a diabetic patient's risk of retinopathy by 50 percent, but it's estimated only 20 percent of diabetics visit and ophthalmologist or other eye professional on a yearly basis. In a recent study at the University of Virginia, researchers increased the number of diabetes patients receiving screenings by making the Optomap exam available at primary care physicians' offices. Physicians conducted the screening and transferred the images to a UVA server where an ophthalmologist remotely accessed and examined them. The ophthalmologist then transferred the results back to the attending physician.

RECOMMENDATIONS: The American Optometric Association recommends a child have his or her first eye exam at 6 months of age, 3 years of age, before first grade, and every two years from that point on. Adults should have an eye exam every two years until they turn 61. After that, eye exams should be annual.


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