The 'eyes have it'
What one thing would you miss the most if you lost your vision? Think about it for a minute.
Would it be the loss of your freedom and independence, not being able to drive yourself places?
How about seeing your children, loved ones, the beauty of a sunset or the brightly colored flowers in your garden? Or maybe something as simple as not being able to coordinate your own outfits every day or counting cash?
Most of us take our sight for granted.
February is “Save Your Vision Month” and reminds us why we should make that appointment and see our eye doctor. But eye exams can also be instrumental in detecting other health issues that may go undetected. Brain tumors, aneurysms, mental illness or melanoma as well as the more common early-onset diabetes or age-related macular degeneration (AMD) are a few that can be found by looking deep into your eyes.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 3.3 million Americans 40 years and older are legally blind or suffer from low vision. The leading causes of these are AMD, cataracts, diabetic retinopathy and glaucoma. The information on the site was updated as of April 2013.
In the past, technology would only allow vision-care specialists to see the top two or three layers of the eye. By the time the disease was diagnosed, it had usually already done irreversible damage.
Dr. Chris McDowell, OD, and his wife, Dr. Sasha Narayan, of Northern Minnesota Eye Care in Cloquet were in the market for a newer technology when they attended a continuing education/networking conference for optometrists in Chicago a few years ago. A presenter there, Dorothy Hitchmoth, was currently using this newest technology at a veterans clinic in Vermont.
McDowell and Narayan decided the Multi-Spectral Imaging (MSI) machine was just what they were looking for.
According to the Annidis Health Systems Corporation, there are about 60 of the MSI machines nationally, but only one in Minnesota at this time.
The key difference in the new technology is the monochromatic wavelength light can see to the the ninth layer of the eye where the diseases quietly begin.
McDowell is still excited by the capabilities of this new technology.
“We got this mainly for diagnosing macular degeneration,” he said. Macular degeneration, or AMD, is a medical condition that usually affects older adults and results in a loss of vision in the center of the visual field (the macula) because of damage to the retina. It occurs in “dry” and “wet” forms. It is a major cause of blindness and visual impairment in older adults. Macular degeneration can make it difficult or impossible to read or recognize faces, although enough peripheral vision remains to allow other activities of daily life. AMD is more common over the age of 60 as the layers thin out and the center of the retina begins to deteriorate over time.
When the MSI was delivered, any patient that was interested was tested.
In the past the disease had taken its toll by the time it was discovered. Now with this new technology, the lights penetrate to the back layer and can find the cells as they just begin to break down.
Jared Nelson was one of the clients who agreed to be tested when the MSI was new in town. He was only 35 years old and had no family history of macular degeneration that he was aware of.
McDowell was doubtful with the test results when they came back positive for Nelson and had Hitchmoth double check. She confirmed that he was reading it correctly and the 35-year-old Nelson indeed had cells breaking down in the ninth layer of his eye.
Nelson was nervous when he first found out. “It’s nice that they can catch it earlier,” he said.
He has made only minor changes to his lifestyle to help stop or slow the growth of the disease. He tries to eat more grains and dark greens as well as wear UV sunglasses. He is not a smoker, which makes a difference as smoking breaks down the pigments faster.
Sometimes supplements are recommended to a patient on an individual basis.
Nelson is planning to be tested again later this year to see if there are any changes.
High risk factors of AMD are being female, a smoker and of the 60-plus-year-old set.
However, Nelson is proof that the disease does not always follow the rules and it pays to get tested regardless.
The general rule is to have a baseline eye exam at 40 years old, even if you think your vision is perfect.
The MSI test is fairly fast and easy to do, as well as affordable.
The symptoms of AMD vary and most people do not notice the small changes. They can include wavy lines, or blurred or decreased vision.
AMD attacks the central vision in the retina, so a person may be able to see the numbers and shape of a clock, but not see the hands of the clock.
Some 1.8 million Americans age 40 and older are affected by AMD and another 7.3 million are at a substantial risk to develop the disease, according to the CDC.
Undiagnosed, it can lead to blindness.
AMD is the leading cause of permanent reading impairment and fine close-up vision for people 65 and over.
Damage that has already occurred can not be repaired.
“Its a great camera...and has super duper benefits,” said McDowell “We can see problems earlier, and now we can do something earlier.”
“It’s super easy to have done and I recommend having it done,” added Nelson.