Lifewatch: Detecting disease through the eyes

Reported by Claire Hosmann - bio|email
Posted by Debra Worley - email

(WECT) - Doctors are using a new laser scan to help detect major health problems from diabetes to cancer sooner.

Christina Dodget started to notice flashes a few months ago, and those flashes turned out to be a serious problem for her left eye.  She had a malignant melanoma.

Doctor Gregg Ossip spotted the problem with a one-second laser scan.

"It's actually looking through the dark part of the eye, looking through the pupil to the back of the eye which is the retina, so it's just capturing that image," said Dr. Ossip.

The image can spot cancer, glaucoma, macular degeneration, even the early signs of hypertension and diabetes.

The scan zooms in on tiny blood vessels.  If there are hemorrhages in the back of the eye, diabetes or stroke could be in your future.

"60 to 70 percent of these patients have no idea that diabetes, high blood pressure and these things are found in the back of the eye, and obviously if you're seeing them in the eye blood vessels, it's happening everywhere else in the body," said Dr. Ossip.

There's a good chance Christina will lose vision in her left eye over the next two years, but she says that's better than the alternative - having her eye removed if the cancer had spread.

Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in the United States.  Doctors believe with tools like the optomap they can stop the disease before it becomes debilitating.

For more information, please contact:
Optos North America
(800) 854-3039

THE EYES HAVE IT: Most people think of their eye exam as time to update their lens prescription or catch the beginnings of eye disease like glaucoma, but few people know an eye exam can catch early signs of diabetes, stroke, high blood pressure and brain tumors. 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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