PLANO ― Without improvements in preventing and treating eye diseases, the number of visually impaired or blind Americans is projected to grow to more than 5 million in the next decade.

Advances in technology could help decrease those numbers and save the eyesight of thousands.

Marilyn Hill, 60, of Plano, is among those for whom imaging discovered unknown, serious problems.

I had a hemorrhage in my retina, says Hill. I had no symptoms. I had nothing bothering me. So I was really surprised to get that kind of news.

That hemorrhage and the beginnings of potentially blinding macular degeneration were discovered by what looks like space-aged imaging called the Optomap.

Traditional eye exams generally look at the front of the eye to evaluate health and prescription changes. And while doctors can see some internal changes, Optomap, and similar laser imaging technologies, voyage deep into the recesses of the eye, mapping the retina.

It gives us a panoramic view of all of the interior of the eye, said Plano Optometrist Dr. Kim Castleberry. It lets us see things like high blood pressure, diabetes, brain tumors, cancer, cardiovascular disease and, of course, eye disease.

Because the scan takes just seconds, doctors say it's easier and, more appealing for patients than dilating eyes at each visit.

If you have to depend on a patient to stay still, sometimes that's not very easy, Castleberry said. So looking at a stationary image that lets me see all of the eye, all at once, helps me to be a better doctor and to help me to catch things I might otherwise miss.

The technology isn't available in every eye doctor's office. A scan typically costs about $50 and often isn't covered by insurance.

But many doctors are convinced laser technology for the eyes should be.

Hill said seeing is believing.

It did save my vision, she said. There's no doubt about it.

Medications now have her eye problems under control. Best of all, she can continue the quilting she loves for the foreseeable future.

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