(207) 773-3937

195 Fore River Parkway, Suite 480, Portland, ME

Patient Education & Resources

Click the links below to learn more about retinal diseases and care.

Retina

Branch Retinal Artery Occlusion

Most people know that high blood pressure and other vascular diseases pose risks to overall health, but many may not know that high blood pressure can affect vision by damaging the arteries in the eye.

Branch retinal artery occlusion (BRAO) blocks the small arteries in the retina, the light-sensing nerve layer lining the back of the eye. The most common cause of BRAO is a thrombosis, the formation of a blood clot. Sometimes the blockage is caused by an embolus, a clot carried by the blood from another part of the body.

Central vision is lost suddenly if the blocked retinal artery is one that nourishes the macula, the part of the retina responsible for fine, sharp vision. Following BRAO, vision can range from normal (20/20) to being barely able to detect hand movement.

BRAO poses significant risks to vision. If you have had a branch retinal artery occlusion, regular visits to your ophthalmologist are essential.

Branch Retinal Vein Occlusion

Most people know that high blood pressure and other vascular diseases pose risks to overall health, but many may not know that high blood pressure can affect vision by damaging the veins in the eye. High blood pressure is the most common condition associated with branch retinal vein occlusion (BRVO). About 10% to 12% of the people who have BRVO also have glaucoma (high pressure in the eye).

BRVO blocks small veins in the retina, the layer of light-sensing cells at the back of the eye. If the blocked retinal veins are ones that nourish the macula, the part of the retina responsible for straight-ahead vision, some central vision is lost. During the course of vein occlusion, 60% or more will have swelling of the central macular area. In about one-third of people, this macular edema will last for more than one year.

BRVO causes a painless decrease in vision, resulting in misty or distorted vision. If the veins cover a large area, new abnormal vessels may grow on the retinal surface, which can bleed into the eye and cause blurred vision.

There is no cure for BRVO. Finding out what caused the blockage is the first step in treatment. Your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) may recommend a period of observation, since hemorrhages and excess fluid may subside on their own. Depending on how damaged the veins are, laser surgery may help reduce the swelling and improve vision. Laser surgery may also shrink abnormal new blood vessels that can grow and that are at risk of bleeding. Newer injectable medicines are being investigated for treating BRVO.

If you have had a branch retinal vein occlusion, regular visits to your ophthalmologist are essential to protect vision.

Central Retinal Artery Occlusion

You probably know that high blood pressure and other vascular diseases pose risks to your overall health, but you may not know that they can affect your eyesight by damaging the arteries in your eye.

Central retinal artery occlusion (CRAO) usually occurs in people between the ages of 50 and 70. The most common medical problem associated with CRAO is arteriosclerosis (hardening of the arteries). Carotid artery disease is found in almost half the people with CRAO.

The most common cause of CRAO is a thrombosis (an abnormal blood clot formation). CRAO can also be caused by an embolus, a clot that breaks off from another area of the body and is carried to the retina by the bloodstream.

CRAO blocks the central artery in your retina, the light-sensitive nerve layer at the back of the eye. The first sign of CRAO is a sudden and painless loss of vision that leaves you barely able to count fingers or determine light from dark. Loss of vision can be permanent without immediate treatment. Irreversible retinal damage occurs after 90 minutes, but even 24 hours after symptoms begin, vision can still be saved. The goal of emergency treatment is to restore retinal blood flow. After emergency treatment, you should have a thorough medical evaluation.

Central Retinal Vein Occlusion

You probably know that high blood pressure and other vascular diseases pose risks to overall health, but you may not know that they can affect eyesight by damaging the veins in the eye.

Central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO) blocks the main vein in the retina, the light-sensitive nerve layer at the back of the eye. The blockage causes the walls of the vein to leak blood and excess fluid into the retina. When this fluid collects in the macula (the area of the retina responsible for central vision), vision becomes blurry.

"Floaters" in your vision are another symptom of CRVO. When retinal blood vessels are not working properly, the retina grows new fragile vessels that can bleed into the vitreous, the fluid that fills the center of the eye. Blood in the vitreous clumps and is seen as tiny dark spots, or floaters, in the field of vision.

In severe cases of CRVO, the blocked vein causes painful pressure in the eye. Retinal vein occlusions commonly occur with glaucoma, diabetes, age-related vascular disease, high blood pressure, and blood disorders.

The first step of treatment is finding what is causing the vein blockage. There is no cure for CRVO. Your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) may recommend a period of observation, since hemorrhages and excess fluid often subside on their own. Laser surgery may be effective in preventing further bleeding into the vitreous or for treating glaucoma, but it cannot remove a hemorrhage or cure glaucoma once it is present. New experimental treatments are now under investigation.

Central Serous Retinopathy

Central serous retinopathy (CSR) is a small, round, shallow swelling that develops on the retina, the light-sensitive nerve layer that lines the back of the eye. Although the swelling reduces or distorts vision, the effects are usually temporary. Vision generally recovers on its own within a few months.

In the initial stages of CSR, vision may suddenly become blurred and dim. If the macula (the area of the retina responsible for central vision) is not affected, there may be no obvious symptoms.

CSR typically affects adults between the ages of 20 and 50. People with CSR often find that their retinal swelling resolves without treatment and their original vision returns within six months of the onset of symptoms. Some people with frequent episodes may have some permanent vision loss. Recurrences are common and can affect 20% to 50% of people with CSR. While the cause of CSR is unknown, it seems to occur at times of personal or work-related stress.

As CSR usually resolves on its own, no treatment may be necessary. Sometimes laser surgery can reduce the swelling sooner, but the final visual outcome is usually about the same. If retinal swelling persists for more than three or four months, or if an examination reveals early retinal degeneration, laser surgery may be helpful.

Cotton-Wool Spots

Cotton-wool spots are tiny white areas on the retina, the layer of light-sensing cells lining the back of the eye. Caused by a lack of blood flow to the small retinal blood vessels, they usually disappear without treatment and do not threaten vision. However, they can be an indication of a serious medical condition.

Diabetes is the most common cause of cotton-wool spots. The presence of more than eight cotton-wool spots has been associated with a higher risk of the more severe form of diabetic retinopathy known as proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR).

Cotton-wool spots are also a common sign of infection with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). They are present in more than half of the people with full-blown AIDS. Their presence can be an important sign of the severity of HIV-related disease.

Detached and Torn Retina

A retinal detachment is a very serious problem that usually causes blindness unless treated. The appearance of flashing lights, floating objects, or a gray curtain moving across the field of vision are all indications of a retinal detachment. If any of these occur, see an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) right away.

As one gets older, the vitreous (the clear, gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye) tends to shrink slightly and take on a more watery consistency. Sometimes as the vitreous shrinks, it exerts enough force on the retina to make it tear.

Retinal tears can lead to a retinal detachment. Fluid vitreous, passing through the tear, lifts the retina off the back of the eye like wallpaper peeling off a wall. Laser surgery or cryotherapy (freezing) are often used to seal retinal tears and prevent detachment.

If the retina is detached, it must be reattached before sealing the retinal tear. There are three ways to repair retinal detachments. Pneumatic retinopexy involves injecting a special gas bubble into the eye that pushes on the retina to seal the tear. The scleral buckle procedure requires the fluid to be drained from under the retina before a flexible piece of silicone is sewn on the outer eye wall to give support to the tear while it heals. Vitrectomy surgery removes the vitreous gel from the eye, replacing it with a gas bubble, which is slowly replaced by the body's fluids.

Floaters and Flashes

Small specks or clouds moving in your field of vision as you look at a blank wall or a clear blue sky are known as floaters. Most people have some floaters normally but do not notice them until they become numerous or more prominent.

In most cases, floaters are part of the natural aging process. Floaters look like cobwebs, squiggly lines, or floating bugs. They appear to be in front of the eye but are actually floating inside. As we get older, the vitreous (the clear, gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye) tends to shrink slightly and detach from the retina, forming clumps within the eye. What you see are the shadows these clumps cast on the retina, the light-sensitive nerve layer lining the back of the eye.

The appearance of flashing lights comes from the traction of the vitreous gel on the retina at the time of vitreous separation. Flashes look like twinkles or lightning streaks. You may have experienced the same sensation if you were ever hit in the eye and "saw stars."

Floaters can get in the way of clear vision, often when reading. Try looking up and then down to move the floaters out of the way. While some floaters may remain, many of them will fade over time.

Floaters and flashes are sometimes associated with retinal tears. When the vitreous shrinks, it can pull on the retina and cause a tear. A torn retina is a serious problem. It can lead to a retinal detachment and blindness. If new floaters appear suddenly or you see sudden flashes of light, see an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) immediately.

Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome

Ocular histoplasmosis syndrome (OHS) is a major cause of visual impairment in the eastern and central United States, where 90% of adults have been exposed to Histoplasma capsulatum. This common fungus is found in molds from soil enriched with bat, chicken, or starling droppings and yeasts from animals. Although the fungus is not found directly in the eye, people with OHS usually test positive for previous exposure to Histoplasma capsulatum.

Histoplasmosis is usually mistaken for a cold. The symptoms are very similar. The body's immune system normally overcomes the infection in a few days. Generally, "histo spots," or small scars in the retina, do not affect vision, but for unknown reasons, some people can have ocular complications years or decades later.

Doctors believe that the histoplasmosis spores travel from the lungs to the eye where they settle in the choroid, the layer of tiny blood vessels that provide blood and nutrients to the retina, the light-sensing layer of cells lining the back of the eye.

Ocular histoplasmosis can affect vision when fragile, abnormal blood vessels grow under the retina. These abnormal blood vessels form a lesion known as a choroidal neovascularization (CNV). If left untreated, the CNV lesion can turn into scar tissue and replace the normal retinal tissue in the macula.

The only proven treatment for OHS is a form of laser surgery called photocoagulation. The laser's small, powerful beam of light destroys the abnormal blood vessels as well as a small amount of the retinal tissue. Other treatments, including steroids and intraocular injections, are sometimes used. Treatment is not necessary unless the new vessels are in the macula, the part of the retina responsible for acute central vision.

Although only a very small number of people infected with the histoplasmosis virus develop OHS, if you have been exposed to histoplasmosis, you should be sensitive to any changes in your eyesight, and you should monitor your vision using an Amsler grid test at home.

Retinitis Pigmentosa

Retinitis pigmentosa (RP) describes a group of related diseases that tend to run in families and cause a slow but progressive loss of vision. RP affects the rods and cones of the retina, the light-sensitive nerve layer at the back of the eye, and results in a decline in vision in both eyes. RP usually affects both eyes equally, with severity ranging from no visual problems in some families to blindness at an early age in others. RP gets its name from the fact that one of the symptoms is a clumping of the retinal pigment that can be seen during an eye exam.

The earliest symptom of retinitis pigmentosa, usually noticed in childhood, is night blindness or difficulty with night vision. People with normal vision adjust to the dark quickly, but people with night blindness adjust very slowly or not at all. A loss of side vision, known as "tunnel vision," is also common as RP progresses. Unfortunately, the combination of night blindness and the loss of peripheral vision can be severe and can lead to legal blindness in many people.

While there is a pattern of inheritance for RP, 40% of RP patients have no known previous family history. Learning more about RP in your family can help you and your ophthalmologist predict how RP will affect you.

Usher's syndrome, a condition that causes both deafness and blindness, is a form of RP. The incidence of Usher's syndrome is difficult to determine, but surveys of patients suggest up to 10% of RP patients are deaf. The incidence of Usher's syndrome is three cases per 100,000. It is the most frequent cause of combined deafness and blindness in adults.

Considerable research is being done to find the hereditary cause of RP. As hereditary defects are discovered, it may be possible to develop treatments to prevent progression of the disease. While developments are on the horizon, particularly in the area of genetic research, there is currently no cure for retinitis pigmentosa.

Nutritional supplements may be of benefit in RP. It has been reported that vitamin A can slow the progression of RP. Large doses of vitamin A are harmful to the body, and supplements of vitamin E alone may make RP worse. Vitamin E is not harmful if taken along with vitamin A or in the presence of a normal diet. Your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) can advise you about the risks and benefits of vitamin A and about how much you can safely take.

Despite visual impairment, people with RP can maintain active and rewarding lives through the wide variety of rehabilitative services that are available today. Until there is a cure, periodic examinations by your ophthalmologist will keep you informed of legitimate scientific discoveries as they develop.

Stargardt's Disease

Stargardt's disease is an inherited disease that affects the retina, the layer of light-sensitive cells lining the back of the eye. It usually becomes apparent between the ages of eight and 14. Boys and girls are equally susceptible and more than one child in a family can have it.

Stargardt's disease begins with slightly blurry vision that gradually gets worse. By the late 20s, corrected vision is typically about 20/200, the level labeled legally blind. Remaining vision is good enough for most people to live fairly normal lives, though they will not drive, or read without using magnification devices.

A buildup of lipofuscin (fatty substance) in retinal cells is thought to cause Stargardt's disease. The buildup typically happens in the central retina, or macula, where it resembles beaten bronze. Or it can occur in the side retina where it causes small white flecks. This form is called fundus flavimaculatus.

Angiography, a special photograph of the retina, may aid in the diagnosis. Although no specific medical or surgical treatment is available, eyeglasses and magnification help affected people adapt to the disease.

Uveitis

The uvea is the middle layer in the eye sandwiched between the retina (innermost layer) and the sclera (outermost layer). The uvea contains many blood vessels that carry blood to and from the eye. Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea. Since the uvea nourishes many important parts of the eye, uveitis can damage your sight.

Symptoms can include pain, "floaters," blurriness, light sensitivity, and redness. Uveitis may develop suddenly with redness and pain or with just a blurring of vision.

Causes of this condition include viruses like mumps, shingles, or herpes simplex; eye injuries; fungi or parasites; autoimmune diseases; and others. In most cases, the cause is unknown.

Uveitis is diagnosed by an examination of the eye. In addition, your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) may order blood tests, skin tests, or x-rays and also will want information about your overall health.

There are different types of uveitis:

Iritis
With iritis, the uvea is inflamed near the front of the eye in the iris. Iritis has a sudden onset and may last up to eight weeks.

Cyclitis
Cyclitis affects the muscle that focuses the lens in the middle part of the eye. It develops suddenly and lasts for several months.

Choroiditis
This is an inflammation in the back of the eye. It can develop more slowly than the other forms of uveitis and last longer, although this is variable.

Because uveitis is a serious condition that can cause permanent damage to the eye, it needs to be treated as soon as possible. Eyedrops and pupil dilators reduce inflammation and pain. For more severe inflammation, oral medications or injections may be necessary. If uveitis is associated with other conditions like glaucoma or retinal damage, surgery may be required.

If you have a "red eye" that does not clear up quickly, ocular pain, or other significant symptoms, see your ophthalmologist as soon as possible.

Macula

Age-Related Macular Degeneration (AMD)

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is one of the most common causes of poor vision after age 60. AMD is a deterioration or breakdown of the macula. The macula is a small area at the center of the retina in the back of the eye that allows us to see fine details clearly and perform activities such as reading and driving.

The visual symptoms of AMD involve loss of central vision. While peripheral (side) vision is unaffected, with AMD, one loses the sharp, straight-ahead vision necessary for driving, reading, recognizing faces, and looking at detail.

Although the specific cause is unknown, AMD seems to be part of aging. While age is the most significant risk factor for developing AMD, heredity, blue eyes, high blood pressure, cardiovascular disease, and smoking have also been identified as risk factors. AMD accounts for 90% of new cases of legal blindness in the United States.

Nine out of 10 people who have AMD have atrophic or "dry" AMD, which results in thinning of the macula. Dry AMD takes many years to develop. A specific vitamin regimen has been shown to slow progression of dry AMD.


Exudative or "wet" AMD is less common (occurring in one out of 10 people with AMD) but is more serious. In the wet form of AMD, abnormal blood vessels may grow in a layer beneath the retina, leaking fluid and blood and creating distortion or a large blind spot in the center of your vision. If the blood vessels are not growing directly beneath the macula, laser surgery is usually the treatment of choice. The procedure usually does not improve vision but tries to prevent further loss of vision. For those patients with wet AMD whose blood vessels are growing directly under the center of the macula, a procedure called photodynamic therapy (PDT), which causes fewer visual side effects, is sometimes used. Intravitreal injections of certain medications can also be used in these cases.

Promising AMD research is being done on many fronts. In the meantime, high-intensity reading lamps, magnifiers, and other low vision aids help people with AMD make the most of their remaining vision.

Epiretinal Membrane or Macular Pucker

The retina is a layer of light-sensing cells lining the back of your eye. As light rays enter your eye, the retina converts the rays into signals that are sent through the optic nerve to your brain, where they are recognized as images.

The macula is the small area at the center of your retina that allows you to see fine details. The macula normally lies flat against the back of the eye, like film lining the back of a camera. As you age, the clear, gel-like substance that fills the middle of your eye begins to shrink and pull away from the retina. In some cases, a thin "scar tissue" or membrane can grow on the surface of the macula. When wrinkles, creases, or bulges form on the macula due to this scar tissue, this is known as an epiretinal membrane or macular pucker. Damage to your macula causes blurred central vision, making it difficult to perform tasks such as reading small print or threading a needle. Peripheral (side) vision is not affected.

Symptoms, which can be mild or severe and affect one or both eyes, may include:
  • blurred detail vision;
  • distorted or wavy vision;
  • gray or cloudy area in central vision; and
  • blind spot in central vision.

Your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) detects an epiretinal membrane by examination and special photographic techniques. If your symptoms are mild, no treatment may be necessary. Updating your eyeglass prescription or wearing bifocals may improve your vision sufficiently. If you have more severe symptoms that interfere with your daily routine, your ophthalmologist may recommend vitrectomy surgery to peel and remove the abnormal scar tissue. During this outpatient procedure, your ophthalmologist uses tiny instruments to remove the wrinkled tissue. Vision often improves.

Be sure to discuss your options with your ophthalmologist. If surgery is recommended, you should be aware that as with any surgical procedure, rare complications can occur, including infection, bleeding, retinal detachment, recurrence of the epiretinal membrane, and earlier onset of cataract.

Macular Degeneration and Nutritional Supplements

Age-related macular degeneration (AMD) is a disease caused by damage or breakdown of the macula, the small part of the eye's retina that is responsible for our central vision. This condition affects both distance and close vision and can make some activities (like threading a needle or reading) very difficult or impossible. Macular degeneration is the leading cause of severe vision loss in people over 65.

Although the exact causes of AMD are not fully understood, a recent scientific study shows that antioxidant vitamins and zinc may reduce the effects of AMD in some people with the disease.

Among people at high risk for late-stage macular degeneration (those with intermediate AMD in both eyes or advanced AMD in one eye), a dietary supplement of vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene, along with zinc, lowered the risk of the disease progressing to advanced stages by about 25% to 30%. However, the supplements did not appear to benefit people with minimal AMD or those with no evidence of macular degeneration.

Light may affect the eye by stimulating oxygen, leading to the production of highly reactive and damaging compounds called free radicals. Antioxidant vitamins (vitamins C and E and beta-carotene) may work against this activated oxygen and help slow the progression of macular degeneration.

Zinc, one of the most common minerals in the body, is very concentrated in the eye, particularly in the retina and macula. Zinc is necessary for the action of over 100 enzymes, including chemical reactions in the retina. Studies show that some older people have low levels of zinc in their blood. Because zinc is important for the health of the macula, supplements of zinc in the diet may slow down the process of macular degeneration.

The levels of antioxidants and zinc shown to be effective in slowing the progression of AMD cannot be obtained through your diet alone. These vitamins and minerals are recommended in specific daily amounts as supplements to a healthy, balanced diet.

It is very important to remember that vitamin supplements are not a cure for AMD, nor will they restore vision you may have already lost from the disease. However, specific amounts of certain supplements do play a key role in helping some people at high risk for advanced AMD to maintain their vision. You should speak with your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) to determine if you are at risk for developing advanced AMD and to learn if supplements are recommended for you.

Macular Dystrophy

Macular dystrophy is a hereditary condition in which the macula degenerates. The macula is the part of your retina responsible for acute central vision, the vision one uses to read, watch television, and recognize faces.

Symptoms of macular dystrophy can range from minimal vision loss and disturbance of color vision to profound loss of reading and night vision. The most common types of macular dystrophies, which tend to appear early in life, are Best's disease, Stargardt's macular dystrophy, and bull's eye maculopathy.

Considerable research is directed toward finding the hereditary cause of many types of macular dystrophies. With further research, it may be possible to develop medical treatments to prevent or slow the progression of macular dystrophy.

Low-vision devices can help affected individuals continue with many of the activities of daily life.

Macular Edema

Macular edema is the swelling of the macula, the small area of the retina responsible for central vision. The edema is caused by fluid leaking from retinal blood vessels. Central vision, used for reading and other close, detail work, is affected.

Because the macula is surrounded by many tiny blood vessels, anything that affects them, such as a medical condition affecting blood vessels elsewhere in the body or an abnormal condition originating in the eye, can cause macular edema.

Retinal blood vessel obstruction, eye inflammation, and age-related macular degeneration have all been associated with macular edema. The macula may also be affected by swelling following cataract extraction, although typically this resolves itself naturally.

Treatment seeks to remedy the underlying cause of the edema. Eyedrops, injections of steroids or other, newer medicines in or around the eye, or laser surgery can be used to treat macular edema. Recovery depends on the severity of the condition causing the edema.


Macular Hole

The macula is the part of the retina responsible for acute central vision, the vision you use for reading, watching television, and recognizing faces. A macular hole is a small, round opening in the macula. The hole causes a blind spot or blurred area directly in the center of your vision.

Most macular holes occur in the elderly. When the vitreous (the gel-like substance inside the eye) ages and shrinks, it can pull on the thin tissue of the macula, causing a tear that can eventually form a small hole. Sometimes injury or long-term swelling can cause a macular hole. No specific medical problem is known to cause macular holes.

Vitrectomy surgery is the most successful treatment for macular hole, with improvement in vision and successful closure of the hole in over 90% of patients. The operation removes vitreous traction and fine membranes that caused the macular hole to occur. At the end of the operation, a special gas bubble is placed in the eye to temporarily "splint" the hole closed while it heals, usually requiring 3-7 days of face down positioning after surgery to keep the bubble in contact with the macula. The gas bubble absorbs spontaneously, allowing the vision to gradually improve over several weeks. As the bubble dissolves, the eye re-fills with the aqueous fluid which is continuously produced in the back of the eye.

Most patients will experience considerable improvement in vision following closure of the macular hole, but there is typically some residual blurring or distortion.

A new medication called Jetrea or Ocriplasmin is an enzyme that can be injected in the back of the eye and may dissolve the vitreo-macular adhesion if it is small enough. About 40% of selected small macular holes can be closed with this technique.

Watch a video of the surgical repair of a macular hole.


Tests

Fluorescein Angiography

Fluorescein angiography, a clinical test to look at blood circulation inside the back of the eye, aids in the diagnosis of retinal conditions associated with diabetes, age-related macular degeneration, and other eye abnormalities. The test can also help follow the course of a disease and monitor its treatment. It may be repeated on multiple occasions with no harm to the eye or body.

Fluorescein is an orange-red dye that is injected into a vein in the arm. The dye travels through the body to the blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive nerve layer at the back of the eye. A special camera with a green filter flashes a blue light into the eye and takes multiple photographs of the retina. The technique uses regular photographic film, or, more commonly, is performed with digital equipment. No X-rays are involved.

If there are abnormal blood vessels, the dye leaks into the retina or stains the blood vessels. Damage to the lining of the retina or atypical new blood vessels may be revealed as well. These abnormalities are determined by a careful interpretation of the photographs by an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.).

The dye can discolor skin and urine until it is removed from the body by the kidneys. There is little risk in having fluorescein angiography, though some people may have mild allergic reactions to the dye. Severe allergic reactions have been reported but only very rarely. Being allergic to X-ray dyes with iodine does not mean you will be allergic to fluorescein. Occasionally, some of the dye leaks out of the vein at the injection site, causing a slight burning sensation that usually goes away quickly.

Fundus Photographs

These involve the use of a sophisticated digital camera to study the retina.

Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT)

This test uses a scanning laser to provide detailed high resolution images of the macula that are helpful in the diagnosis and treatment of macular degeneration, diabetic retinopathy and other macular diseases.

Ultrasound

This test uses sound waves to image the back of the eye when the view is obscured by a dense cataract, blood or other opaque material. The ultrasound also helps the doctor to diagnose ocular tumors and other conditions.

Treatments

Anti-VEGF Treatment for Wet Age-Related Macular Degeneration

Anti-VEGF treatment is a way to slow vision loss in people who have a condition known as "wet" age-related macular degeneration (AMD).

AMD is the leading cause of vision loss in people 50 years or older in the United States. This condition damages the macula, which is located in the center of the retina and enables you to see fine details clearly. You rely on your macula whenever you read, drive, or do other activities that require you to focus on precise details. A person with AMD loses the ability to perceive fine details both up close and at a distance. This vision loss usually affects only your central vision.

There are two types of AMD. About 90% of people with AMD have the atrophic or "dry" form of AMD, which develops when the tissues of the macula grow thin with age. About 10% have the exudative or "wet" form of AMD. With wet AMD, abnormal blood vessels grow underneath the retina. These unhealthy vessels leak blood and fluid, which can scar the macula. Vision loss can be rapid and severe.

Researchers have found that a chemical called vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF, is critical in causing abnormal blood vessels to grow under the retina. Scientists have developed several new drugs that can block the trouble-causing VEGF. These are referred to as "anti-VEGF" drugs, and they help block abnormal blood vessels, slow their leakage, and help reduce vision loss.

Treatment with the anti-VEGF drug is usually performed by injecting the medicine with a very fine needle into the back of your eye. Your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) will clean your eye to prevent infection and will administer an anesthetic into your eye to reduce pain. Usually, patients receive multiple anti-VEGF injections over the course of many months. There is a small risk of complications with anti-VEGF treatment, usually resulting from the injection itself. However, for most people, the benefits of this treatment outweigh the small risk of complications.

Anti-VEGF medications are a step forward in the treatment of wet AMD because they target the underlying cause of abnormal blood vessel growth. This treatment offers new hope to those affected with wet AMD. Although not every patient benefits from anti-VEGF treatment, a large majority of patients achieve stabilized vision, and a significant percentage can improve to some degree.

Vitrectomy Surgery

Vitrectomy is a type of eye surgery used to treat disorders of the retina (the light-sensing cells at the back of the eye) and vitreous (the clear gel-like substance inside the eye). It may be used to treat a severe eye injury, diabetic retinopathy, retinal detachments, macular pucker (wrinkling of the retina), and macular holes.

During a vitrectomy operation, the surgeon makes tiny incisions in the sclera (the white part of the eye). Using a microscope to look inside the eye and microsurgical instruments, the surgeon removes the vitreous and repairs the retina through these tiny incisions. Repairs include removing scar tissue or a foreign object if present.

During the procedure, the retina may be treated with a laser to reduce future bleeding or to fix a tear in the retina. An air or gas bubble that slowly disappears on its own may be placed in the eye to help the retina remain in its proper position, or a special fluid that is later removed may be injected into the vitreous cavity.

Recovering from vitrectomy surgery may be uncomfortable, but the procedure often improves or stabilizes vision. Once the blood- or debris-clouded vitreous is removed and replaced with a clear medium (often a saltwater solution), light rays can once again focus on the retina. Vision after surgery depends on how damaged the retina was before surgery.

Watch our video of vitrectomy surgery.

Laser Treatment of Retinal Diseases

Laser treatment of the retina utilizes specialized equipment that allows precise highly focused placement of laser applications to manage areas of disease. When placed close together, laser spots can form a bond between layers of tissue, which is helpful for sealing holes or tears in the retina, or for treating small detachments of the retina. Laser can be used to reduce fluid that accumulates when the blood vessels of the retina are leaking, such as in diabetes or some forms of macular degeneration. Some patients with diabetes have poor blood flow in the retina, which leads to bleeding and other complications. Laser treatment to the retina can stop this cycle and stabilize vision in many patients with diabetes.

Diabetic Retinopathy

Nonproliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

If you have diabetes mellitus, your body does not use and store glucose properly. Over time, diabetes can damage blood vessels in the retina, the nerve layer at the back of the eye that senses light and helps to send images to the brain. The damage to retinal vessels is referred to as diabetic retinopathy.

Nonproliferative diabetic retinopathy (NPDR), commonly known as background retinopathy, is an early stage of diabetic retinopathy. In this stage, tiny blood vessels within the retina leak blood or fluid. The leaking fluid causes the retina to swell or to form deposits called exudates.

Many people with diabetes have mild NPDR, which usually does not affect their vision. When vision is affected, it is the result of macular edema or macular ischemia, or both.

Macular edema is swelling or thickening of the macula, a small area in the center of the retina that allows us to see fine details clearly. The swelling is caused by fluid leaking from retinal blood vessels. It is the most common cause of visual loss in diabetes. Vision loss may be mild to severe, but even in the worst cases, peripheral (side) vision continues to function. Laser treatment can be used to help control vision loss from macular edema. Newer treatments are being investigated.

Macular ischemia occurs when small blood vessels (capillaries) close. Vision blurs because the macula no longer receives sufficient blood supply to work properly. Unfortunately, there are no effective treatments for macular ischemia.

A medical eye examination is the only way to discover any changes inside your eye. If your ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.) finds diabetic retinopathy, he or she may order color photographs of the retina, a special test calledfluorescein angiography, or optical coherence tomography (OCT) to find out if you need treatment.

If you have diabetes, early detection of diabetic retinopathy is the best protection against loss of vision. You can significantly lower your risk of vision loss by maintaining strict control of your blood glucose and visiting your ophthalmologist regularly. People with diabetes should schedule examinations at least once a year. Pregnant women with diabetes should schedule an appointment in their first trimester, because retinopathy can progress quickly during pregnancy. More frequent medical eye examinations may be necessary after a diagnosis of diabetic retinopathy.

Proliferative Diabetic Retinopathy

Proliferative diabetic retinopathy (PDR) is a complication of diabetes caused by changes in the blood vessels of the eye. If you have diabetes, your body does not use and store sugar properly. High blood sugar levels create changes in the veins, arteries, and capillaries that carry blood throughout the body. This includes the tiny blood vessels in the retina, the light-sensitive nerve layer that lines the back of the eye.

In PDR, the retinal blood vessels are so damaged they close off. In response, the retina grows new, fragile blood vessels. Unfortunately, these new blood vessels are abnormal and grow on the surface of the retina, so they do not resupply the retina with blood.

Occasionally, these new blood vessels bleed and cause a vitreous hemorrhage. Blood in the vitreous, the clear gel-like substance that fills the inside of the eye, blocks light rays from reaching the retina. A small amount of blood will cause dark floaters, while a large hemorrhage might block all vision, leaving only light and dark perception.

The new blood vessels can also cause scar tissue to grow. The scar tissue shrinks, wrinkling and pulling on the retina and distorting vision. If the pulling is severe, the macula may detach from its normal position and cause vision loss.

Laser surgery may be used to shrink the abnormal blood vessels and reduce the risk of bleeding. The body will usually absorb blood from a vitreous hemorrhage, but that can take days, months, or even years. If the vitreous hemorrhage does not clear within a reasonable time, or if a retinal detachment is detected, an operation called a vitrectomy can be performed. During a vitrectomy, the eye surgeon removes the hemorrhage and any scar tissue that has developed, and performs laser treatment to prevent new abnormal vessel growth.

People with PDR sometimes have no symptoms until it is too late to treat them. The retina may be badly injured before there is any change in vision. There is considerable evidence to suggest that rigorous control of blood sugar decreases the chance of developing serious proliferative diabetic retinopathy.

Because PDR often has no symptoms, if you have any form of diabetes you should have your eyes examined regularly by an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.).

Diabetic Macular Edema (DME)

Patients with diabetes sometimes experience vision loss as a result of swelling in the central retina (macula). Microscopic damage to the blood vessels means that patients with diabetes tend to leak more blood and fluid into their retina. Laser treatment can help the body absorb some of this fluid, and can help to seal some of the leaky blood vessels. Many patients benefit from injections that reduce the blood vessels' tendency to leak, or from medicines that help the body absorb the fluid faster.

Vitreous Hemorrhage

The center of the eye is filled with a transparent gel called the vitreous. Blood can leak into the gel as a result of a torn retina, or because of abnormal blood vessel growth in diseases like diabetes. Mild vitreous hemorrhage sometimes clears up on its own. Severe vitreous hemorrhage may require surgery to remove the blood and clear the vision. Although the blood itself is not usually dangerous, many of the conditions that cause bleeding in the eye need to be treated immediately to prevent permanent vision loss. A vitreous hemorrhage should be treated as an emergency until the cause is known.

Tractional Retinal Detachment (TRD)

Severe cases of diabetes can cause scar tissue to form inside the eye. The scar tissue forms in areas where abnormal blood vessels have grown, and over time this scar tissue can place tension on the retina and nearby tissues. If there is too much tension the retina can be pulled away from its normal location in the eye, creating a tractional retinal detachment. This can cause permanent vision loss if left untreated, and usually requires surgery. A similar process can occur in patients who do not have diabetes if they have suffered trauma or have had a retinal detachment in the past.

Watch our video of retinal detachment repair.