Ann Heiser, VRC Caseworker-Social Services, interviews Host Mark Levengood. Ann asks Mark common questions for the visually impaired that are frequently wondered, but rarely asked.
Host Mark Levengood is joined by Wendy Seidel and James Trupp from the Greater Reading Mental Health Alliance to discuss how to stay positive and get the most out of the holiday season despite the pandemic and need for social distancing on Insight. Watch December 2020’s BCTV’s Insight here…
Host Mark Levengood is joined again by optometrist Dr. Dawn Hornberger to explain what certain eye defects do to affect someone’s vision on Insight. Watch November 2020’s BCTV’s Insight here…
November is Diabetic Eye Disease Awareness Month
Story Credit: American Diabetes Association
DID YOU KNOW?
Diabetes is the leading cause of blindness in working-age Americans
Almost 1/3 of diabetics don’t know they have the disease and are at risk for vision loss and other health problems.
The most common diabetic eye disease is diabetic retinopathy which affects 5.3 million Americans age 18 and older.
Once diagnosed with diabetes, you should schedule a complete eye exam, including dilation.
Early diagnosis of diabetes can help reduce your risk of developing eye disease related to diabetes.
To understand what happens in eye disorders, it helps to understand how the eye works. The eye is a ball covered with a tough outer membrane. The covering in front is clear and curved. This curved area is the cornea, which focuses light while protecting the eye.
After light passes through the cornea, it travels through a space called the anterior chamber (which is filled with a protective fluid called the aqueous humor), through the pupil (which is a hole in the iris, the colored part of the eye), and then through a lens that performs more focusing. Finally, light passes through another fluid-filled chamber in the center of the eye (the vitreous) and strikes the back of the eye, the retina.
The retina records the images focused on it and converts those images into electrical signals, which the brain receives and decodes.
One part of the retina is specialized for seeing fine detail. This tiny area of extra-sharp vision is called the macula. Blood vessels in and behind the retina nourish the macula.
People with diabetes are 40% more likely to suffer from glaucoma than people without diabetes. The longer someone has had diabetes, the more common glaucoma is. Risk also increases with age.
Glaucoma occurs when pressure builds up in the eye. In most cases, the pressure causes drainage of the aqueous humor to slow down so that it builds up in the anterior chamber. The pressure pinches the blood vessels that carry blood to the retina and optic nerve. Vision is gradually lost because the retina and nerve are damaged.
There are several treatments for glaucoma. Some use drugs to reduce pressure in the eye, while others involve surgery.
Many people without diabetes get cataracts, but people with diabetes are 60% more likely to develop this eye condition. People with diabetes also tend to get cataracts at a younger age and have them progress faster. With cataracts, the eye’s clear lens clouds, blocking light.
To help deal with mild cataracts, you may need to wear sunglasses more often and use glare-control lenses in your glasses. For cataracts that interfere greatly with vision, doctors usually remove the lens of the eye. Sometimes the patient gets a new transplanted lens. In people with diabetes, retinopathy can get worse after removal of the lens, and glaucoma may start to develop.
Diabetic retinopathy is a general term for all disorders of the retina caused by diabetes. There are two major types of retinopathy: nonproliferative and proliferative.
In nonproliferative retinopathy, the most common form of retinopathy, capillaries in the back of the eye balloon and form pouches. Nonproliferative retinopathy can move through three stages (mild, moderate, and severe), as more and more blood vessels become blocked.
Although retinopathy does not usually cause vision loss at this stage, the capillary walls may lose their ability to control the passage of substances between the blood and the retina. Fluid can leak into the part of the eye where focusing occurs, the macula. When the macula swells with fluid, a condition called macula edema, vision blurs and can be lost entirely. Although nonproliferative retinopathy usually does not require treatment, macular edema must be treated, but fortunately treatment is usually effective at stopping and sometimes reversing vision loss.
In some people, retinopathy progresses after several years to a more serious form called proliferative retinopathy. In this form, the blood vessels are so damaged they close off. In response, new blood vessels start growing in the retina. These new vessels are weak and can leak blood, blocking vision, which is a condition called vitreous hemorrhage. The new blood vessels can also cause scar tissue to grow. After the scar tissue shrinks, it can distort the retina or pull it out of place, a condition called retinal detachment.
How is it Treated?
Huge strides have been made in the treatment of diabetic retinopathy. Treatments such as scatter photocoagulation, focal photocoagulation, and vitrectomy prevent blindness in most people. The sooner retinopathy is diagnosed, the more likely these treatments will be successful. The best results occur when sight is still normal.
In photocoagulation, the eye care professional makes tiny burns on the retina with a special laser. These burns seal the blood vessels and stop them from growing and leaking.
In scatter photocoagulation (also called panretinal photocoagulation), the eye care professional makes hundreds of burns in a polka-dot pattern on two or more occasions. Scatter photocoagulation reduces the risk of blindness from vitreous hemorrhage or detachment of the retina, but it only works before bleeding or detachment has progressed very far. This treatment is also used for some kinds of glaucoma.
Side effects of scatter photocoagulation are usually minor. They include several days of blurred vision after each treatment and possible loss of side (peripheral) vision.
In focal photocoagulation, the eye care professional aims the laser precisely at leaking blood vessels in the macula. This procedure does not cure blurry vision caused by macular edema. But it does keep it from getting worse.
When the retina has already detached or a lot of blood has leaked into the eye, photocoagulation is no longer useful. The next option is vitrectomy, which is surgery to remove scar tissue and cloudy fluid from inside the eye. The earlier the operation occurs, the more likely it is to be successful. When the goal of the operation is to remove blood from the eye, it usually works. Reattaching a retina to the eye is much harder and works in only about half the cases.
There are two types of treatment for macular edema: focal laser therapy that slows the leakage of fluid, and medications that can be injected into the eye that slow the growth of new blood vessels and reduce the leakage of fluid into the macula.
Am I at Risk for Retinopathy?
Several factors influence whether you get retinopathy:
- blood sugar control
- blood pressure levels
- how long you have had diabetes
The longer you’ve had diabetes, the more likely you are to have retinopathy. Almost everyone with type 1 diabetes will eventually have nonproliferative retinopathy. And most people with type 2 diabetes will also get it. But the retinopathy that destroys vision, proliferative retinopathy, is far less common.
People who keep their blood sugar levels closer to normal are less likely to have retinopathy or to have milder forms.
Your retina can be badly damaged before you notice any change in vision. Most people with nonproliferative retinopathy have no symptoms. Even with proliferative retinopathy, the more dangerous form, people sometimes have no symptoms until it is too late to treat them. For this reason, you should have your eyes examined regularly by an eye care professional.
You may have heard that diabetes causes eye problems and may lead to blindness. People with diabetes do have a higher risk of blindness than people without diabetes. But most people who have diabetes have nothing more than minor eye disorders.
With regular checkups, you can keep minor problems minor. And if you do develop a major problem, there are treatments that often work well if you begin them right away. Please visit your health professional regularly.
For Additional Information: Please visit the American Diabetes Association website.
Host Mark Levengood is joined by Vision Resource Center Optometrist, Low Vision Specialist, long-time friend and board member Dr. Dawn Hornberger to educate viewers about vision impairment and the conditions that cause or stem from having low vision. Watch October 2020’s BCTV’s Insight here…
October is Blindness Awareness Month
Story Credit: Rich Shea, Foundation Fighting Blindness
Back in the 1970s and ’80s, when the Foundation Fighting Blindness was in its formative years, blind people on TV and in movies usually fit the stereotype — dark glasses, a cane, stumbling along the sidewalk. While that one-dimensional portrayal is no longer politically correct, there are still many misconceptions about people who are blind and visually impaired, including just how many there are.
Throughout October, which is Blind Awareness Month, FFB hopes to help put those misconceptions to rest. For instance, worldwide there are 285 million people who are visually impaired, 39 million of whom are completely blind. In fact, the vast majority of the 10 million Americans who have retinal diseases — those affecting the ultra-thin tissue at the back of the eye — have at least some vision. Only it’s progressively getting worse — for some quickly, for others gradually. Some are losing peripheral and night vision, others central vision.
Which is the whole point of Blindness Awareness Month — those affected are individuals, with their own lives, dreams and hopes.
DID YOU KNOW:
- Worldwide there are 285 million people who are visually impaired, 39 million of whom are completely blind.
- Cataracts are the leading cause of blindness worldwide.
- Blindness or low vision affects 3.3 million Americans age 40 and over. This figure is projected to reach 5.5 million by the year 2020.
Lisa Wilder of Boy Scouts Hawk Mountain Council talks about cub scouting with visual impairments with Mark Levengood on Insight. Watch September 2020’s BCTV’s Insight here…
September is National Guide Dog Month
Story Credit: Natural Balance
National Guide Dog Month is a celebration of guide dogs throughout North America. Guide Dog Month was first inspired by U.S. pet food manufacturer Natural Balance’s co-founder, Dick Van Patten, who was impressed by the intelligence and training of guide dogs. During a visit to a local guide dog school, he was blindfolded and experienced how guide dogs provide mobility and assistance to visually impaired and blind people. After learning about the costs, dedication and commitment to raise and train a guide dog, he was inspired to help raise awareness and support the cause.
Van Patten served as an honorary Board Member for the Guide Dogs of the Desert. Through his pet food company Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods, he has underwritten all costs for the promotion of National Guide Dog Month to ensure that all money raised would directly benefit non-profit, accredited guide dog schools in the United States.
In 2008, Van Patten enlisted the support of the Petco Foundation, to organize a fundraising campaign through their retail stores. The San Diego based retailer piloted the first guide dog fundraiser in the Southern California area to benefit the Guide Dogs of the Desert, based in Palm Springs, California. In 2009 National Guide Dog Month was established to benefit the non-profit guide dogs schools accredited by the International Guide Dog Federation.
In 2009, National Guide Dog Month was established for the month of May, however in 2010, it was moved to September due to conflicts with other national fundraising drives.
A Lasting Impact
To celebrate National Guide Dog month, Natural Balance partnered with Guide Dogs for the Blind. Since 1942, Guide Dogs for the Blind has empowered lives by creating exceptional partnerships between people, dogs and communities.
- Largest Guide Dog school in the country.
- Dedicated to providing high quality student training services and extensive follow-up support for graduates.
- Services are provided to students from the United States and Canada at no cost to them.
- Operate two training facilities in San Rafael, CA and Boring, OR.
- More than 2,000 volunteer puppy raisers throughout the Western states.
- More than 14,000 teams have graduated since their founding.
- Approximately 2,200 active guide dog teams are currently in the field.
Some Lives Touched:
Ashleigh & Yuri
Visually impaired since birth, Ashleigh used a cane to get around for years—but found that it became increasingly difficult to be mobile during the wintertime due to dangerous patches of ice on the pavement. These harsh winter conditions—combined with encouragement from her family—got her to consider the possibility of a guide dog.
Ashleigh grew up terrified of dogs, but as she began researching Guide Dogs for the Blind, she felt that their positive reinforcement philosophy matched her personal beliefs and values. So she took a leap of faith. When Yuri—a Guide Dogs for the Blind-trained yellow Lab—first walked into her life, Ashleigh remembers he was so excited that he couldn’t stop sneezing. Now, over two years later, they’re so connected that she can’t imagine life without him.
“Being paired with Yuri has changed my life in so many ways. In addition to being my eyes, keeping me safe, and giving me independence, he has also become my best friend—and is constantly by my side,” says Ashleigh. Without Yuri, Ashleigh may have never developed the confidence and independence needed to fulfill her dream of living and working in New York City. She is now able to navigate the city’s fast-paced subway system every day, feeling fully safe and cared for.
Melissa & Camry
Being diagnosed with juvenile arthritis at age three, Melissa was at risk of losing her eyesight from a very young age. In the coming years, she slowly began to realize the impact that this diagnosis would have on her. As Melissa had to sit closer and closer to the whiteboard in her college courses and could no longer see her friends waving to her across campus, things began to take a turn. As her vision continued to deteriorate, her doctor told her: “Melissa, you need to face the facts, you’re going blind.” She was just 27 years old.
The hardest step after hearing this shocking news was accepting the use of a cane to help Melissa get around. When she finally accepted her new reality, Melissa was ready for the chance to bring her old self back—and her first step was to apply to Guide Dogs for the Blind.
Now on her third guide dog—a beautiful black labrador named Camry—Melissa is an entirely different person. She says that with Camry, her “invisibility clock has been lifted.” Her independence and mobility have been enhanced, and new-found freedom shines through her countless adventures with Camry. The two have traveled to three continents, including North America, Europe, and Asia. Even more importantly, through the highest of highs and lowest of lows, Camry is always by Melissa’s side. From navigating through the chaotic streets of Los Angeles to dodging skateboarders, Camry and Melissa tackle each new obstacle like professionals. Together, the two are ready to conquer the world.
Michelle & Oscar
Born with glaucoma, Michelle spent a big part of her young life unable to navigate the world around her. Later, when Michelle became more mobile, it came with its fair share of bumps and bruises. Lacking depth perception, she lived in a constant state of discomfort and found it increasingly difficult to get around.
Around the same time that she started her undergraduate degree in psychology, Michelle made the split second decision to apply for Guide Dogs for the Blind program, and she has never looked back. From the get go, Michelle knew that the program had done a marvelous job in matching her with her beautiful golden guide dog Oscar—they immediately fell into step with each other, and within two months knew they had a lifelong partnership.
Even more surprising was the sheer number of people who approached Michelle on the first day of the new semester. The questions on everyone’s lips were: “Who is your furry friend?”, “Where can I get one?”, and of course “Can I pet him?” With this positive attention, the pair was able to walk with confidence everyday—whether it be on a small grocery shopping trip or a longer trip to visit Michelle’s sister in Los Angeles. Together, the two tackle intense psychology and jiu jitsu classes, but always leave room for playtime. Michelle and Oscar are primed to tackle deadlines and take the mental health field by storm.
Tom & Dynamo
After months of seeing Tom come home from his daily walks with strange bruises, his wife decided to apply to Guide Dogs for the Blind on his behalf. Before he knew it, Tom was headed to San Rafael, California to meet his future soulmate—Dynamo, a professional guide dog. “I’ve had four great gifts in my life: my wife, my two kids, and Dynamo,” says Tom. A superhero guide dog and a superhuman athlete, Dynamo and Tom spent their days training and securing their bond for two intensive weeks. They have never looked back.
With Dynamo never more than 20 feet away, Tom can listen to the birds sing and feel the wind in his hair without worrying about his safety. The added mental calm that Dynamo gives Tom, and the support and positive reinforcement that Tom gives Dynamo, have helped the two complete a half-marathon together, raising $6,000 for charity. With no signs of slowing down, the two are now planning to hike up Mount Rainier and travel the country— speaking as ambassadors for Guide Dogs for the Blind.
For Additional Information: Dick Van Patten’s Natural Balance Pet Foods, has underwritten all costs for the promotion of National Guide Dog Month to ensure that all money raised would directly benefit non-profit, accredited guide dog schools in the United States. Visit them here: Natural Balance Pet Foods
Host Mark Levengood welcomes Lia Swavely to the show. Lia is a student at Boyertown High School with a visual impairment. In this episode the two discuss how online classes have affected visually-impaired students on Insight. Watch August 2020’s BCTV’s Insight here…
Mark Levengood discusses the VRC Golf Tournament scheduled for 8/19/20 at Willow Hollow Golf Course with Rip Harris, Vision Resource Center Board Member & Finance Chair. Watch July 2020’s BCTV’s Insight here…