Blind World

Better Vision Just A Breath Away?

September 2004.
The Bakersfield Channel.

Study Shows Oxygen Reduces Fluid Build-Up In Eye Macular edema is a diabetic complication of the eye. In 10 percent of all diabetics, high blood sugar causes damage to the retina. Now giving patients oxygen may reverse the problem.

Deanna Skaggs says breathing oxygen through her nose helps her see better.

"If I were to say anything about the oxygen therapy, itís just why not sooner?" Skaggs said.

Skaggs has had diabetes for 11 years. Over time, high blood sugar caused a fluid build-up in a part of her eye called the macula, the area in the retina responsible for central vision.

"A visual acuity of 20/200 is considered legally blind. Many of our patients with diabetic macular edema can reach that potential," said Dr. Quan Nguyen.

A small study at Johns Hopkinsí Wilmer Eye Institute suggests supplemental oxygen can reduce fluid build-up and improve vision.

"Itís always a little surprising when a hypothesis proves correct. But there was reason why we did the original testing," said Dr. Peter Campochiaro.

Doctors knew a lack of oxygen in the retina increases production of a substance called vascular endothelial growth factor. VEGF stimulates new blood vessel formation.

"VGEF also causes extreme leakiness of retinal blood vessels and thatís the major problem in diabetic macular edema," said Campochiaro.

After three months of round-the-clock supplemental oxygen, fluid build-up decreased by 43 percent in all five patients tested.

"The results are very promising," said Nguyen.

Doctors say, in the future, oxygen therapy combined with lasers could make treating the problem more effective.

For patients with a busy work schedule, nighttime oxygen therapy may be sufficient. Doctors say the demand for oxygen in the eye seems to be greater at night. Researchers are currently doing a follow-up study to confirm the findings.

Copyright 2004 by MedStar contributed to this report.

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