Welcome to the April/May 2010 edition of At-A-Glance, Lighthouse International's low vision newsletter. This special double issue covers topics related to April's theme of Women's Eye Health Month and May's theme of Healthy Vision Month.
New Use for Lucentis: Fighting Diabetic Blindness
Hope may have arrived for diabetes-induced blindness. In a government-sponsored clinical trial, the drug Lucentis improved the eyesight of patients suffering from diabetic macular edema. Treatment of Lucentis is not approved for macular edema yet, but it is currently prescribed for macular degeneration. As published by the American Journal of Ophthalmology, Lucentis, in combination with laser therapy, improved the sight of roughly half of the subjects treated. "The use of the drug Lucentis, for diabetic macular edema, has great implications for those individuals who are visually impaired," says Dr. Bruce Rosenthal, Chief of Low Vision Programs at Lighthouse International. "The drug not only improves and retains visual acuity but preserves contrast sensitivity as well." Diabetic macular edema occurs when fluid from damaged blood vessels leaks into a part of the retina called the macula. Lucentis, which is made by Genentech, dries the blood vessels. "The treatments may help a person resume normal activities we all take for granted, such as reading the newspaper, traveling safely and independently, or retaining one's position at work," says Dr. Rosenthal. With approximately one million Americans suffering from diabetic macular edema, hope can't come soon enough. In related news, Dr. Jay Adlersberg, the Health and Medical Reporter for ABC Eyewitness News in New York, discussed the correlation between diabetes and blindness with Lighthouse International. Dr. Adlersberg interviewed Dr. Andrea Zimmerman, an optometrist at Lighthouse International, Dr. Lawrence Yannuzzi, a member of Lighthouse International's Medical Advisory Board, and Mr. Narine Lalla, a Lighthouse patient diagnosed with diabetic retinopathy.
New Study Finds Higher Rates of Vision Loss Among Latino Americans
A new study by the National Eye Institute (NEI) reports that Latinos living in the United States have higher rates of visual impairment, blindness, cataracts and diabetic eye disease than non-Hispanic whites. The Los Angeles Latino Eye Study (LALES), which was sponsored by NEI, found that Latinos developed visual impairment and blindness at the highest rate of any ethnic group in the United States. Over 4,600 Latinos from La Puente, Calif., predominately of Mexican descent and over the age of 40, were examined over a four-year period. Nearly three percent of the participants developed visual impairment and 0.3 percent developed blindness. The report also found that 34 percent of the subjects with diabetes developed diabetic retinopathy. "These results underscore the importance of Latinos, especially those with diabetes, getting regular dilated eye exams to monitor their eye health," said Dr. Rohit Varma, principal investigator of LALES, in a news release. "Eye care professionals should closely monitor Latinos who have eye disease in one eye because their quality of life can be dramatically impacted if they develop the condition in both eyes." LALES is the first estimate of visual impairment and eye disease within the Latino community. The results of the study, which were published in the May issue of the American Journal of Ophthalmology, should be a wake-up call to all Latinos to receive a comprehensive eye exam.
Apple’s iPad Improves Accessibility for the Low Vision Community For over 20 years, Apple has been at the forefront of accessible technology for the blind and visually impaired. The iPad, Apple’s new tablet computer, is changing the way the visually impaired community interacts with media. Included in each iPad, at no additional cost, is a screen magnifier and VoiceOver, an application that allows for audible instructions for each menu. With VoiceOver, the user can glide his or her finger around the screen, and the screen reader technology will read each icon.
“Not only does the iPad make reading easy for people with impaired vision, or no vision at all, it makes reading easier for everyone,” says Dorrie Rush, Marketing Director of Accessible Technology at Lighthouse International. Dorrie, who is diagnosed with a retinal disorder known as Stargardt’s Disease, sees the iPad as a media device she can fully utilize. “On the bigger screen I can view many [of the] things I cannot see at all on my iPhone, [such as] photographs, movies and TV,” says Dorrie. “You can zoom [the] magnifying font to 40 points, then turn the 10-inch screen to landscape and it gets even bigger. You can [also] reverse the screen contrast to white-on-black … or just relax and listen with VoiceOver.”
Since its launch in April, the iPad has already been embraced by the visually impaired community. The National Federation of the Blind praised Apple for the inclusion of VoiceOver on the iPad. “We are looking at a paradigm shift,” says Rush. “Apple has reset the bar on accessibility and they are way ahead of the curve [on] addressing the needs of a huge demographic – the aging population.”
April was Women’s Eye Health Month
Lighthouse International is urging women of all ages to care for their vision. Since women tend to live longer than men, they are also more likely to experience age-related macular degeneration and other debilitating eye diseases. Eye conditions like dry eye syndrome may be caused by birth control pills, hormonal fluctuations and menopause. Certain autoimmune diseases like rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and multiple sclerosis can also affect the eye as well. While 75 percent of vision impairment is preventable or correctable, we urge all women to get a comprehensive eye exam.
May is Healthy Vision Month
With summer around the corner, the Minnesota Optometric Association (MOA) is urging people of all ages to protect themselves against UV radiation. “Overexposure to UV rays is quite serious and can lead to cataracts, macular degeneration, or, in some cases, skin cancer around the eyelids,” said Dr. Stan Andrist, President of the MOA Board of Trustees in a news release. “Other disorders that can occur are abnormal growths on the eye’s surface and even sunburn of the eyes. These conditions can cause blurred vision, irritation, redness, tearing, temporary vision loss and, in some instances, blindness.” In order to maintain your healthy vision, please wear protective eyewear at all times when in the sun. Also, choose sunglasses that screen 75 to 90 percent of visible light and block 99 to 100 percent of UV-A and UV-B radiation.
Q: What would cause a woman in her early forties to have sudden retinal detachment?
A: From Dr. Eleanor E. Faye, M.D., FACS, Lighthouse International:
It is unusual for someone in her forties to suffer a retinal detachment. It means there is an abnormal attachment of the vitreous humor to the retina. This may be hereditary, due to trauma, prematurity, diabetes or another vascular systemic disease. There are a lot of reasons this could happen and many of them are related to larger health concerns.
Without any further details, it's hard to judge the reason. She should speak with her eye doctor about the origin of the retinal detachment.
Do you have any questions about vision loss? Want to ask one of our experts? Let us know. We will frequently feature questions from our readers and the responses from the many experts at Lighthouse International.
(Please note, due to the high volume of questions, we will be unable to respond to all e-mails personally. Thank you for your understanding).
First European Congress on Visual Impairment
The Spanish Association of Professionals of People with Visual Impairment is hosting the first European Congress on Visual Impairment entitled, “Rehabilitation and Attention of People with Visual Impairment.” The event will take place on October 22–24, 2010 in Valladolid, Spain. Dr. Aries Arditi, former Senior Fellow in Vision Science for Lighthouse International, is just one of the many national and international specialists in low vision scheduled to speak. The topics of discussion at the event include accessibility at work and home; education and rehabilitation in school; and the new treatments, causes and effects of visual impairment.
For more information, visit the official event website (PDF format).