“You only have one pair of eyes.” Those were my mother’s words every time I did something that could hurt my eyes such as running with a stick when I was a kid or opting for contact lenses instead of eyeglasses when I was an adult. Mom didn’t know about Fuchs' corneal dystrophy back then, she only knew life could be difficult when blind in one eye.
Fifty years ago, doctors couldn’t explain why in her 30s, a dark spot formed in the center of one eye, blocking mom’s vision. But if she were alive today, her ophthalmologist would have diagnosed her eye problem as Fuchs' corneal dystrophy. I know this because I was recently diagnosed with the same thing.
What is Fuchs’ Corneal Dystrophy?
Experts at the National Eye Institute say, “Fuchs' dystrophy (a genetic disorder) occurs when endothelial cells (a thin layer of cells that line the back part of the cornea) gradually deteriorate without any apparent reason. As more endothelial cells are lost over the years, the endothelium becomes less efficient at pumping water out of the stroma. This causes the cornea to swell and distort vision. Eventually, the epithelium also takes on water, resulting in pain and severe visual impairment.”
What are the symptoms?
An ophthalmologist who specializes in corneal disease can diagnose Fuchs' when you are in your 30s and 40s. But you probably won’t experience symptoms until you reach your 50s and 60s.
The Mayo Clinic describes symptoms as follows:
- Blurred vision on awakening that gradually clears up as the day goes on
- Distorted vision
- Sensitivity to light
- Difficulty seeing at night
- Seeing halos around lights
- Generalized eye discomfort
- Painful, tiny blisters (epithelial blisters) on the surface of your cornea — caused by excess fluid within the cornea
- A cornea that is cloudy or hazy in appearance
- Blindness — may occur late in the disorder
When to see a doctor
If you have experienced any symptoms from the list above, make an appointment with an ophthalmologist who specializes in diseases of the eye (specifically corneal diseases). You should also be examined if anybody in your family (parents, siblings, etc.) has been diagnosed with Fuchs’.
Is there a cure?
The only cure for Fuchs’ is a cornea transplant, but that is a last resort. Luckily, I was diagnosed early enough and get temporary relief with B&L Muro 128 eye drops (sodium chloride). It can be used as often as every 30 minutes.
Putting drops in your eyes that frequently becomes annoying and sodium chloride (salt water) will sting at first, but it definitely helps with vision and also pain, which happens when the cornea swells. However, sodium chloride is only for therapeutic purposes. It is not a cure.
What not to do
Don’t try to diagnose yourself. If you are having cloudy or blurred vision, find an ophthalmologist who specializes in corneal disease and make an appointment.
Don’t treat yourself. It’s important to follow your doctor’s directions. You may read about home remedies on the Internet such as blowing air across your eyes with a hair dryer to dry up the corneal fluid.
DON’T DO IT! Listen to your doctor!
Don’t panic. If you’ve heard that your mother or sister has been diagnosed with Fuchs’ (Fuchs’ tends to affect women more often than men), don’t freak out. Just get checked out. Because it’s a genetic disease, an ophthalmologist who specializes in corneal disease can tell you if you have Fuchs’ even if you haven’t experienced any symptoms.
The good news. Having the Fuchs’ gene in your family doesn’t guarantee you will develop the condition. The best approach is to be aware of your vision and see your eye doctor annually. And remember my mother’s words, “You only have one pair of eyes.”
My Ophthalmologist: David R. Simon, M.D., Ph.D., F.A.C.S. 201 N. University Drive, Plantation, FL, 33324
Fuchs Corneal Dystrophy – Fuchs’ Support. Web. 14, December, 2011
National Eye Institute – National Institute of Health - Facts About The Cornea
and Corneal Disease – Fuchs’ Dystrophy. Web. 14, December, 2011
Mayo Clinic – Health – Fuchs’ Dystrophy – Definition. Web. 14, December, 2011
ScienceDaily – Science News - Gene Involved in Fuchs Corneal Dystrophy Is Found. Web. 14, December, 2011
Reviewed December 14, 2011
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith
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