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Scanning for the future: Optometrist uses technology for early detection

I was standing at home plate, and the biggest 10-year-old girl Ihad ever seen threw a pitch. I flinched as I swung, and my heart leapt asI heard the bat make contact — then I started crying. That so-called “soft” ball spun backward and somehow hit my eye. By the next day I was fine, andI forgot about it pretty quickly. When I visited Dr. Julie Lagodinski Christian, an optometrist at Advanced Eyecare in Grand Forks, on a recent rainy Thursday morning, that childhood injury was far from my memory. But my eye told the story. “See that dark area there?” Christian asked. “That’s some scarring.” By scanning my eye with a machine called Optomap, acquired from Scotland, she was able to see through my pupil to examine the back of my eye, an innovation she says has helped her save several peoples’ vision in the past year.

 Optomap uses a laser to look through the layers of the eye. The 200-degree-angle view gives a nearly complete picture of the eye.


 While my scan showed a healthy eye other than the nonthreatening scar, she showed me scans of her patients with conditions that are easily recognizable on the scan.


 She says sometimes she ends up functioning like a primary care doctor for people who don’t often visit general physicians for a checkup, finding health issues such as diabetes and high blood pressure before symptoms drive someone to a doctor’s office.


 Witha special filter that shows blood flow in the eye, she pointed out the blood vessels in my eye were generally straight and there were no leaks. Then she showed scans from a patient who had no idea when he came in that his blood pressure was dangerously high.


 His vessels were squiggly, and in a few places, it was evident they were leaking under the extreme pressure.


 This level of pressure can lead to a stroke and complete blindness, Christian says.


 Another scan showed a tumor in a different patient’s eye. Christian says the patient was a pilot with 20/15 vision and no symptoms. The scan revealed a 13-year-old tumor that would have eventually blinded him. With localized radiation, specialists were able to destroy the tumor without affecting his vision.


 Christian says, in some cases, the eye would have been completely removed.


 She says Optomap scanning is a standard practice now for patients with diabetes.


 Scans of diabetic eyes often show little clouds on the scan. These are bleeding blood vessels. She says these generally start around the periphery.


 Before, diabetic scans would focus on the center of the eye, but with this new technology, she’s able to see a wider picture.


 The wider picture helps her know there’s a problem earlier so the patient can get an injection to seal the blood vessels and preserve their vision before the entire eye is clouded.


 She can also easily tell when the layers of the retina are separating. In my case, the dark scarring we saw was pigment, functioning as natural “glue” holding the layers of my eye together. A detached retina looks like a bubble on the image.


 Images can also capture floaters in the eye, a common complaint in the early days of winter, when fresh, white snow makes the small visual obstructions more obvious.


 The scan is usually not covered by insurance and costs $39 out of pocket.


 It takes no time at all and is almost fun.I looked at a blue target with my face resting on a squishy plastic surface. Then I moved my eye closer to the target until it turned green, but not so far that it turned red.


 The hardest part was trying not to blink during the second-long bright green flash when the image was captured.


 For someone, unlike me, who doesn’t notoriously blink every time a camera flashes, that shouldn’t be so difficult.


 After the scan, we went into an exam room where Christian and Ilooked at the images together, and she carefully explained how each part of my eye was healthy.


 In cases like mine, where some scarring or abnormality is detected, Christian is able to measure the scarred area and monitor it with each visit to make sure there is no further damage.


 If something on the scan is unfamiliar to Christian she can easily email the image to a colleague or specialist for a fast consultation.