Diabetic retinopathy is an eye condition that affects the retina in people who have diabetes.

The retina is the light-sensitive tissue that lines the back of the eye, and detects light that is then processed as an image by the brain. Chronically high blood sugar or large fluctuations in blood sugar can damage the blood vessels in the retina. This can result in bleeding in the retina or leakage of fluid.

Diabetic retinopathy can be divided into non-proliferative or proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

Non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy: In the early stage of the disease, there is weakening of the blood vessels in the retina that causes out-pouching called microaneurysms. These microaneurysms can leak fluid into the retina. There can also be yellow deposits called hard exudates present in the retina from leaky vessels.

Diabetic macula edema is when the fluid leaks into the region of the retina called the macula. The macula is important for sharp, central vision needed for reading and driving. The accumulation of fluid in the macula causes blurry vision.

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy: As diabetic retinopathy progresses, new blood vessels grow on the surface of the retina. These blood vessels are fragile, which makes them likely to bleed into the vitreous, which is the clear gel that fills the middle of the eye. Bleeding inside the eye is seen as floaters or spots. Over time, scar tissue can then form on the surface of the retina and contract, leading to a retinal detachment. This is similar to wallpaper contracting and peeling away from the wall. If left untreated, retinal detachment can lead to loss of vision.

Symptoms of diabetic retinopathy:

  • Asymptomatic: In the early stages of mild non-proliferative diabetic retinopathy, the person will usually have no visual complaints. Therefore, it is important for people with diabetes to have a comprehensive dilated exam by their eye doctor once a year.
  • Floaters: This is usually from bleeding into the vitreous cavity from proliferative diabetic retinopathy.
  • Blurred vision: This can be the result of fluid leaking into the retina, causing diabetic macular edema.

Risk factors for diabetic retinopathy:

  • Blood sugar. Lower blood sugar will delay the onset and slow the progression of diabetic retinopathy. Chronically high blood sugar and the longer the duration of diabetes, the more likely chance of that person having diabetic retinopathy.
  • Medical conditions. People with high blood pressure and high cholesterol are at greater risk for developing diabetic retinopathy.
  • Ethnicity. Hispanics, African Americans and Native Americans are at greater risk for developing diabetic retinopathy.
  • Pregnancy. Women with diabetes could have an increased risk of developing diabetic retinopathy during pregnancy. If they already have diabetic retinopathy, it might worsen during pregnancy.

 

Article contributed by Jane Pan M.D.

The content of this blog cannot be reproduced or duplicated without the express written consent of Eye IQ

In our modern world, people spend hours on end staring at computer screens, smartphones, tablets, e-readers, and books that require their eyes to maintain close focus.

For most people (all except those who are nearsighted and aren’t wearing their glasses), their eyes’ natural focus point is far in the distance. In order to move that focus point from far to near there is an eye muscle that needs to contract to allow the lens of the eye to change its shape and bring up-close objects into focus. This process is called accommodation.

When we accommodate to view close objects, that eye muscle has to maintain a level of contraction to keep focused on the near object. And that muscle eventually gets tired if we continuously stare at the near object. When it does, it may start to relax a bit and that can cause vision to intermittently blur because the lens shape changes back to its distance focal point and the near object becomes less clear.

Continuing to push the eyes to focus on near objects once the focus starts to blur will began to produce a tired or strained feeling in addition to the blur. This happens very frequently to people who spend long hours reading or looking at their device screens.

An additional problem that occurs when we stare at objects is that our eyes’ natural blink rate declines. The average person blinks about 10 times per minute (it varies significantly by individual) but when we are staring at something our blink rate drops by about 60% (4 times per minute on average). This causes the cornea (the front surface of the eye) to dry out faster. The cornea needs to stay moist in order to see clearly, otherwise little dry spots start appearing in the tear film and the view gets foggy. Think about your view through a dirty car windshield and how much that view improves when you turn the washers on.

So what should you do if your job, hobby or passion requires you to stare at a close object all day?

Follow the 20-20-20 rule. Every 20 minutes, take 20 seconds and look 20 feet into the distance. This lets the eye muscle relax for 20 seconds, and that is generally enough for it to have enough energy to go back to staring up close for another 20 minutes with much less blurring and fatigue. It also will help if you blink slowly several times while you are doing this to help re-moisten the eye surface.

Don’t feel like you can give up those 20 seconds every 20 minutes? Well if you don’t, there is evidence that your overall productivity will decline as you start suffering from fatigue and blurring. So take the short break and the rest of your day will go much smoother.

 

Article contributed by Dr. Brian Wnorowski, M.D.

The content of this blog cannot be reproduced or duplicated without the express written consent of Eye IQ

Shingles is the term we use to describe a condition that is caused by a re-activation of the Herpes Varicella-Zoster virus. The origin of this infection usually goes way back to childhood with a disease we know as “chickenpox.”

When you have a chickenpox infection your immune system manages to eventually suppress that virus from causing an active infection, but the virus does not get completely eliminated from your body--it is able to go and hide in your nerve roots.

Your immune system manages to keep the virus in check for most of your life but there may come a time in adulthood when your immune system is not working as well as it used to, and the virus can reappear. It usually does this along the distribution of a single sensory nerve called a dermatome.

The most common area for this to occur is along your trunk (chest or abdomen) but it is also commonly found on the face.

There are three branches of nerves that supply sensation to your face. They are all branches of the fifth cranial nerve. Those three branches supply the upper face (V1), the mid face (V2), and the lower face (V3).  Most of the time, shingles breaks out along only one of the branches at a time. The one that most frequently involves the eye is a rash breakout in the V1 distribution. This can involve the forehead and both the upper and lower eyelid.  It is also much more likely that the inside of the eye will be involved if the tip of the nose has a lesion on it.  The reason for that is that there is a specific subbranch of the V1 nerve called the nasocilliary nerve. This nerve is responsible for sensation on the tip of the nose and the inside of the eye.

The hallmark of shingles is that once the rash erupts it stays on one side of the body, including when it happens on the face. The rash will go up to the centerline of your face but will not go to the other side. You may get lesions on your scalp, but they will not show up on the back of your head. That is because the V1 does not go past half way back on your scalp. The back of your head has its sensation handled by nerves that come out of your spinal cord not cranial nerves that come out of the front of your skull.

Many people have a hard-to-describe sensation of pain, irritation, or itching along the distribution of the nerve for a day or two before the rash shows up. It is important to recognize the rash as quickly as possible because the drugs that treat shingles--usually Acyclovir, Famvir (famciclovir), or Valtrex (valacyclovir)--are much more effective if they are started within three days of the beginning of the rash.

Eye problems may occur along with the rash, especially if there is a lesion on the tip of the nose.

The two biggest problems are swelling or inflammation of the cornea and inflammation inside the eye, which we call iritis or uveitis.  

The inflammation in the eye can cause pain and it can also increase the eye pressure and cause glaucoma. Most often the treatment for the eye problem is to use the same oral medication mentioned above and sometimes it also can require eye drops to decrease the inflammation the virus is causing (steroid drops) or drops to try and lower the elevated pressure (glaucoma drops).

The eye inflammation can cause blurred vision, pain, and significant light sensitivity. It can be hard to treat and control and can continue to be a problem long after the skin lesions are gone. In fact, many times problems don’t even start until the skin lesions are starting to go away.

It is recommended that if you have shingles effecting the distribution of V1 that you have an eye exam within a few days of the diagnosis being made and then again a week later because, as mentioned above, the eye problems can present a week later than the skin eruptions.

There can be some serious long-term effects of shingles on your eye including glaucoma and corneal scarring that can be bad enough to require a corneal transplant. The symptoms are often obvious with the vision being blurry and the eye being very red and painful, but sometimes the symptoms may be much more mild even when significant trouble is brewing inside the eye. So even if you think the eye feels fine, you need an exam to ensure there is not subtle inflammation or significant elevation of the pressure in the eye.

The other long-term problem with shingles around the eye is the possibility of there being ongoing pain in the area that can last for many years. This is called Post Herpetic Neuralgia (PHN). This pain can occur all along the dermatome where shingles had occurred. The eye itself may look perfectly normal but the pain persists. This is often treated with drugs that were originally developed as seizure medication but have since been shown to help alleviate neurological pain. The two most commonly used drugs for this are Neurontin (Gabapentin) and Lyrica (Pregabalin).

The most important thing you can do to try and make sure this doesn’t happen to you is to be vaccinated for shingles. The original vaccination called Zostavax has been available since 2006 in the U.S.  It is a single-injection vaccine and was recommend for everyone over 60.  The main issue with this vaccine is that it only reduced the risk of getting shingles by 51% and PHN by 67%.  In 2017 a new vaccine was approved in the U.S. called Shingrix. This vaccine is a two-injection vaccine with the second shot given 2 to 6 months after the first. This vaccine is recommended for everyone 50 years or older.  The big advantage of this vaccine is that is 90% effective in preventing both shingles and PHN. There have been some shortages of this vaccine since its introduction so it may take a while to get it but you should definitely do it when it is available.  For more information about this vaccine you can go to the CDC website by clicking here.

Article contributed by Dr. Brian Wnorowski, M.D.

Fall brings a lot of fun, with Halloween bringing loads of it.

But did you know that some Halloween practices could harm your vision? Take Halloween contacts, for instance. They vary widely, with everything from monster eyes to goblin eyes to cat eyes to sci-fi or a glamour look. They can be just the added touch you need for that perfect costume. However, some people do not realize that the FDA classifies contact lenses as a medical device that can alter cells of the eye and that damage can occur if they are not fit properly.

Infection, redness, corneal ulcers, hypoxia (lack of oxygen to the eye) and permanent blindness can occur if the proper fit is not ensured. The ICE, FTC, and FDA are concerned about costume contacts from the illegal black market because they are often unsafe and unsanitary. Proper safety regulations are strictly adhered to by conventional contact lens companies to ensure that the contact lenses are sterile and packaged properly and accurately.

Health concerns arise whenever unregulated black-market contacts come into the US market and are sold at flea markets, thrift shops, beauty shops, malls, and convenience stores. These contacts are sold without a prescriber's prescription, and are illegal in the US. There have also been reports of damage to eyes because Halloween spook houses ask employees to share the same pair of Halloween contact lenses as they dress up for their roles.

So the take home message is, have a great time at Halloween, and enjoy the flare that decorative contacts can bring to your costume, but get them from a reputable venue and be fit by an eye care professional with a proper legal prescription. Don't gamble with your eyes for a night of Halloween fun!

 

The content of this blog cannot be reproduced or duplicated without the express written consent of Eye IQ

Lyme disease is an infection that is caused by a spirochete (a type of microorganism) called Borrelia burgdorferi. It is transmitted to humans by the bite of a deer tick.

The disease has a strong geographical incidence, being highly concentrated in the Northeast United States and now also has a high incidence in Minnesota and Wisconsin.

Lyme disease was first discovered in Old Lyme, Connecticut in 1975. It can start with a characteristic “bull’s eye” rash, in which there is a central spot that is surrounded by clear skin that is then ringed by an expanding rash. It can also appear just as an expanding rash.

This rash usually starts within days of the tick bite. Eye problems can occur along with this rash in the first phase of the disease. This includes red eyes that can look like full-blown pink eye, along with eyelid swelling. It also can produce iritis or uveitis, which include sensitivity to light and inflammation inside the eye.

The second phase of the disease usually starts within a few weeks of the tick bite and this occurs because the spirochete gets into the blood stream. This stage often has rashes starting away from the original bite site. It can also produce joint pain, weakness, and inflammation in several organs including the heart, spleen, liver and kidneys.  

There are also several ways it can affect your eyes. It can cause inflammation in your cornea (keratitis), retina (retinitis), optic nerve (optic neuritis), uveitis, inflammation in the jelly-like substance that fills the back of the eye called vitreous (vitritis) and the muscles that move your eye around (orbital myositis). It can also affect the eye if it causes problems with the nerve that controls your eyelid muscles so that your eye will not close properly (Bell’s palsy).

There is a third phase of the disease that is caused by long-term persistent infection.  This phase can create multiple neurologic problems and can appear very similar to the presentation of Multiple Sclerosis (MS). The eyes can show any of the same signs as phase two, but the most common presentation is persistent keratitis.

The diagnosis is made by observing the presenting symptoms, being in an area where there are significant numbers of the disease-carrying ticks, and a blood test that can confirm the diagnosis.  

The symptoms and signs of Lyme Disease can mimic many other problems, so it is important to keep Lyme Disease in mind if you are having multiple problems involving different organs and you know or have any suspicion that you may have had a tick bite while you were in areas where the disease is prevalent.

Article contributed by Dr. Brian Wnorowski, M.D.

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Dr. Morri Coulter

Dr. Morri Coulter

Dr. Morri Coulter started her practice in 1985. She grew up in Huntsville and went to Grissom High School. Dr. Coulter attended Auburn University...


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