Our Commitment During COVID-19

Dear Austin Retina patients and family,

We hope this communication finds you safe in the comfort of your home enjoying those you love during the current COVID-19 pandemic. To those who have loved ones affected by this pandemic, we hold you and yours in our thoughts. The potential spread of the virus reminds us how connected we are to one another. Those connections will hopefully inspire each of us to be our better selves during this trying time. We, at Austin Retina, are laser focused on continuing our delivery of compassionate and friendly care.

This communication is to reassure you that we are taking recommended precautions to make our office environment safe for you on your visit. We have initiated several directives that will serve to reduce your risks. From rescheduling some patients to changing our protocols, we are proactively preparing.

We consider our delivery of healthcare a collaboration between you and the Austin Retina Team.  To that end we appreciate your patience during this unprecedented time.  Our staff is busy making changes in the way we work to reduce everyone’s risk of exposure.

As a result of the state of emergency, you might be receiving a telephone call from our office to reschedule a visit or to discuss your current visual symptoms to determine when you should be seen. Furthermore, the procedures at check in may be a little different as well. The staff may be wearing masks to protect everyone from passing germs among other safe guards.

We are constantly monitoring the COVID-19 guidelines and will be making changes as we deem appropriate to ensure your timely care. If need be, you might be receiving messages from our leadership team regarding new strategies to navigate the COVID-19 pandemic.

Your vision remains of paramount importance to us so rest assured, we will continue to deliver excellence in retina care through this crisis.

On behalf of the doctors of Austin Retina, we remain at your service,

Jose Agustin Martinez, M.D.
President

Stephanie Collins Mangham, MBA
Chief Operating Officer

When Is a Retina Specialist Needed?

The eye is an incredibly sophisticated organ, which makes it simultaneously powerful and vulnerable. While it plays a vital role in how humans gather information about their environment, it is also one of the most fragile organs in the body. As such, it’s crucial that we are proactive about our vision health.

March is Save Your Vision Month, and it serves as a reminder to educate yourself about various eye conditions, including retinal problems. The retina is thin and light-sensitive and lines the back of the inner eye, and its function is to acquire light signals and send those signals to the brain to convert them into vision.

The retina is susceptible to numerous serious conditions some of which are serious and many require the assistance of a retina specialist. Below are some of the most common retina conditions.

Diabetic Retinopathy

This condition is a complication caused by diabetes mellitus and is characterized by abnormal blood vessels in the retina.  Early on in the disease one may not have any visual symptoms but it can lead to blindness if not monitored and treated as necessary.

Age-Related Macular Degeneration

The macula is the central portion of the retina and it is responsible for central vision used to read, see color, and recognize fine details.  Macular degeneration causes deterioration of the macula and causing difficulty with fine central visual details.

Retinal Holes, Tears, and Detachments

Retinal detachment is a condition where the retina becomes separated from the underlying layers of the eye. Left untreated, it can cause permanent vision loss and total blindness.  Retinal tears and holes can lead to retinal detachment.  Flashes and floaters can be an indicator or predictor of retinal tears, holes or detachment.

Other Retinal Conditions

In addition to the conditions above, there are many other less serious conditions that need to be assessed and treated by a retina specialist, including:

  • Macular Hole: This is a hole in the macula, which can cause vision to look blurry centrally.
  • Choroidal Melanoma: This is a type of malignant tumor that develops inside the eye between the retina and the sclera.
  • Epiretinal Membrane: This is a thin membrane of tissue that forms on the macula’s surface. It can sometimes cause central vision problems.
  • Retinal Vein Occlusion: This is when the small veins that transport blood away from the retina become blocked. The visual symptoms can range from mild to severe.
  • Uveitis: This type of eye inflammation affects the uvea, which is the middle layer of the eye wall. If left untreated, it can cause permanent vision loss.

Celebrate Save Your Vision Month by addressing your eye health. If you think you may be at risk for a retinal condition or are in need of treatment, contact the expert retina specialists and eye surgeons at Austin Retina Associates at 800-252-8259 or complete an online form.

Macular Degeneration: What You Need to Know to Preserve Your Vision

Macular degeneration, also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD), is the leading cause of blindness in people over the age of 50 in the United States. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), AMD affects up to 15 million people in North America.

AMD occurs when the central portion of the retina, known as the macula, deteriorates. The retina acts sort of like a video camera with email capabilities – it records the images we see and then sends them to the brain using the optic nerve.

The macula’s function is to focus the eye’s central vision, and it is the primary mechanism behind our ability to recognize faces, read, see color, and see objects in fine detail. When it deteriorates, the macula is unable to receive images correctly and thus cannot send the images to the brain.

Common Risk Factors

When it comes to the cause of AMD, there are a number of biological, medical, and lifestyle risk factors at play. You are more likely to be diagnosed with AMD if you:

  • Are over the age of 55
  • Have a family history of AMD
  • Are a smoker
  • Are obese
  • Have high blood pressure or cardiovascular disease
  • Frequently expose your eyes to UV rays without protection

Symptoms

In the early stages of AMD, you may not experience any noticeable symptoms. As the condition progresses, it can cause blurred vision and, eventually, the total loss of the eye’s central vision. However, people with AMD may still retain their peripheral vision. At its most extreme, vision with AMD is like looking at a photograph that has been eclipsed by a black hole in the center.

Because it can be easy to miss in the early stages, it’s important to make an appointment with a retina specialist if you experience any of the following symptoms:

  • Worsening vision, especially if a quick onset or one eye worse than the other
  • Distortion — straight lines starting to appear curved
  • Darkened areas in the center of your vision
  • Changing perceptions of color

Prevention

Because there is no known cure, your best defense against developing AMD is to focus on prevention. While certain risk factors, such as genetics and age, are out of your control, there are a number of lifestyle changes you can make that will help slow down the condition’s development. These lifestyle changes include:

  • Not smoking
  • Having regular eye exams
  • Always wearing sunglasses that block 100% of UVA and UVB light
  • Keeping blood pressure and cholesterol under control
  • Maintaining a healthy diet
  • Maintaining a moderately active lifestyle
  • Achieving and maintaining a healthy weight

Learn More

If you’re concerned about your risk of developing AMD or are in need of treatment in Austin, contact the expert ophthalmologists and eye surgeons at Austin Retina Associates at 800‑252‑8259 or complete an online form.

What to Expect at Your First Retina Appointment

Your first appointment with a retina specialist can seem daunting. Patients aren’t always sure of what to expect, what’s needed of them, and what the experience will entail. On top of these concerns, if you’re visiting our office, you are dealing with a retina issue that could be impeding your quality of life and daily activities.

Our goal is to offer a world-class patient experience – from the moment you enter our door to the moment you leave – that is stress-free. Our teams are highly trained and dedicated to treating you with the utmost respect and compassion.

Your First Visit
A first appointment/consultation with our office is highly comprehensive. Patients can be surprised at the amount of time required for a first visit, but in order to provide effective care, we need to have as much information about your retina situation as possible. Most patients will need to spend around 2-3 hours with us during the exam process, which includes:

  • Preliminary imaging
  • The screening process
  • A full examination by your doctor
  • Additional diagnostic testing (if needed); some additional testing can be performed same-day
  • Treatment (if needed); some treatment can be performed same-day

How can I prepare for my visit?
For your first appointment, you will be given the opportunity to complete your new patient paperwork online. If you do not wish to complete necessary paperwork prior to your visit or need further assistance, we kindly recommend that you arrive 15 minutes early.

Please be sure to bring the following with you:

  • Your insurance card
  • If your insurance requires a physician referral, please obtain the referral prior to your appointment.
  • A photo ID
  • List of any medications you are taking (including eye glasses and eye drops)
  • A confirmed plan to travel home safely
  • Your eyes will be dilated during your visit, making your vision blurry and your eyes more sensitive to light for several hours. If you are not using public transportation, or do not feel comfortable driving yourself home, please consider arranging transportation.

You can learn more about your first appointment with Austin Retina here. Please see this webpage for PDF versions of our new patient paperwork in both English and Spanish, as well as our Notice of Privacy Practices.

If you’d like to schedule an appointment with our practice today, please call 800-252-8259 or complete an online contact form.

Diagnostic Testing Provided by Austin Retina

When patients visit Austin Retina for the purposes of specialized evaluation and diagnostic testing, we understand that they’ve likely already visited with an eye doctor and require further assistance in order to receive a proper diagnosis and treatment plan.

At Austin Retina, we offer a variety of diagnostic testing services designed to both correctly identify an issue and assist in the formal diagnosis and later treatment of our patients. Check out our range of diagnostic testing services and contact our office to learn more, refer a patient, or schedule an appointment (or call 800-252-8259).

At Austin Retina, we offer the following diagnostic testing options:

  • Spectral Domain OCT (high-resolution OCT)
  • OCT angiography (noninvasive high-resolution evaluation of the retinal and choroidal microvasculature)
  • Wide-field Fluorescein Angiography (for the evaluation of peripheral retinal pathology)
  • Wide-field Indocyanine Green Angiography (useful in evaluating diseases of the choroid such as central serous retinopathy and polypoidal choroidal vasculopathy, as well as intraocular tumors)
  • B-scan Ultrasound (for evaluation of the retina when view of the retina is limited, and for evaluation of tumors)
  • Anterior Segment Ultrasound Biomicroscopy (for evaluation of the iris and ciliary body)
  • ERG
  • Visual Field Testing

We encourage anyone who believes they can benefit from our testing services, or any doctor with a patient in need of further testing services, to move forward with scheduling an appointment with our practice. Vision issues should always be taken seriously, especially since many conditions can be treated effectively with early detection. We’re committed to making the testing process as noninvasive as possible – regardless of the test required. Patients are thoroughly prepped ahead of any test or procedure so they know what to expect.

Please contact Austin Retina for any questions you may have about our diagnostic testing services. You can call our office during normal business hours at 800-252-8259 or book an appointment online today.

November is Diabetes Awareness Month

Did you know that diabetic retinopathy is the current leading cause of blindness in adults in the U.S.? The condition is serious, but the fortunate news for patients is that with proper screening, a majority of devastating vision loss is preventable. We encourage patients with diabetes to make regular annual visits to an eye care professional a priority, particularly as they age. Spending an hour or less at your doctor’s office once a year could mean the difference between potentially losing all vision and effective treatment that prevents such a loss.

What is diabetic retinopathy?

Diabetic retinopathy is a condition that occurs in the retina that generally results from chronically elevated blood glucose levels. Glycosylation of these blood vessels can lead to breakdown of blood vessel walls, leakage and swelling and ultimately decreased vision. In addition, unstable new blood vessels can form that can break and bleed, which can also lead to decreased vision.

Diabetic retinopathy, although the leading cause of blindness in patients under the age of 55 in the US, is largely preventable with proper screening and treatment.

On top FA/FP moderate NPDR, bottom FA/FP severe PDR with NVD, NVE, and ischemia. (Fluorescein Angiogram/Fundus Photo).

How is diabetic retinopathy diagnosed?

Up to 60% of diabetic patients are not properly screened for diabetic retinopathy. Proper screening can consist of yearly visits to an eye care professional or, more recently, telemedicine screening visits in a primary care setting. Through local telemedicine partnerships, Austin Retina is pleased to have seen up to 80% compliance rates, ultimately saving the sight of thousands.

Once any diabetic retinopathy is detected on initial screening, other testing modalities such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) and fluorescein angiogram imaging are employed. OCT is an excellent tool used to detect subtle changes in macular thickness, which often occurs in early diabetic maculopathy. Optos fluorescein angiogram wide-angle imaging is critical in analyzing the peripheral retina for ischemia and neovascularization, both of which can be easily missed by direct examination or routine photography.

OCT (optical coherence tomography) – Image of a patient with diabetic retinopathy.

How is diabetic retinopathy treated?

The two critical variables for control of diabetic retinopathy are blood pressure and blood glucose.

Controlling blood glucose (hemoglobin A1C less than 7%) limits the destruction that can occur from glycosylation of small blood vessels in the retina. In most cases, this can be achieved through diet and exercise. Controlling blood pressure decreases the amount of leakage and swelling that can occur from these already damaged blood vessels.

The newest treatments for diabetic retinopathy involve the use of medications that can be effective not only in stabilizing the condition but also in restoring vision. These medications are injected into the eye through an office-based procedure called an intravitreal injection. This relatively painless injection through the white part of the eye is performed after the eye is thoroughly anesthetized with topical eye drops. Additionally, medications such as Eylea, Lucentis, and Avastin have the potential to improve vision by reducing the amount of macular edema caused by diabetic retinopathy.

Do you have questions? Please contact Austin Retina directly so we can assist. You can request an appointment online here or call our office at 800-252-8259 during normal business hours.

Three Commonly Misdiagnosed Retinal Conditions

It can be difficult for doctors and patients alike to understand why a medical misdiagnosis has taken place. However, there are many reasons why an incorrect diagnosis could occur. One reason is that there are countless medical conditions that can closely mirror one another – even to such a degree that a trained and experienced medical professional with advanced diagnostic equipment could choose one condition over the correct issue.

One of the ways the medical industry (including the field of retina care) works to reduce instances of misdiagnoses is to better educate the community, particularly in cases where the condition is well known for being misdiagnosed. At Austin Retina Associates, we want to ensure that our doctors are armed with all available knowledge for patient care and that patients can feel confident in the decisions their doctors are making.

Three Commonly Misdiagnosed Retinal Conditions

Macular Hole

Often, patients who are referred to our practice by another doctor have been told that they have a macular hole, but what they actually have is a lamellar macular hole. The reason the two conditions are confused is that a macular hole is simply a more severe version of a lamellar macular hole. To further illustrate:

  • A macular hole extends through all of the retina layers; a lamellar macular hole does not.
  • A macular hole requires surgical treatment; a lamellar macular hole usually isn’t treated with surgery unless the patient’s vision worsens.

Retinoschisis

Sometimes, patients who were told that they have a retinal detachment actually have a condition called peripheral retinoschisis. The reason why the two conditions can be confused is that both feature an elevated retina. However, peripheral retinoschisis has a very thin appearing retina, a particular shape, and sometimes have white dots in its bed which distinguish it from a retinal detachment. The distinction is important since a retinal detachment is sight-threatening and treated with surgery while a peripheral retinoschisis is not sight-threatening and is observed.

Central Retinal Vein Occlusion

The presence of scattered blot hemorrhages in all four quadrants can be seen in both central retinal vein occlusion (CRVO) and diabetic retinopathy. Both conditions can also cause visually significant macular edema. The difference between the two conditions ultimately lies in a CRVO diagnosis usually includes venous tortuosity and disc edema. We understand that what makes one retina condition different from another can be found in minute details. Many conditions are quite similar in nature, making a medical misdiagnosis both possible and unfortunately common. The ultimate goal is to never put a patient in a position where they lack confidence in their referring doctor or undergo unnecessary treatment. This is why our practice enjoys so many patient referrals and second opinion requests in order to help ensure the best possible patient care. If you have questions about any of the above conditions or would like to schedule a consultation, please contact our practice today.

Why Should I Participate in a Clinical Trial?

At Austin Retina Associates, we understand that there are a number of misconceptions patients may have about what it means to participate in a clinical trial. These misconceptions are unsurprising, as clinical trials, particularly modern ones, are not part of our normal, everyday conversations.

We hope that the information below will help describe the reality of being in a clinical trial and the many potential benefits of the process. Of course, if you have questions or are interested in a specific clinical trial with our practice, please contact our staff today.

What is a clinical trial? And are they safe?

Clinical trials are scientific medical research initiatives into the appropriateness, effectiveness and safety of new treatments in humans. The goal of a clinical trial, whether for a vision-related issue or other health problem, is to improve patient care and advance medical knowledge. And yes, they are safe as long as they are conducted by reputable, experienced organizations, such as Austin Retina Associates.

Why do clinical trials exist?

Clinical trials present an opportunity for patients to try medications and treatments that might not otherwise be available because the scientific community is not yet fully confident in their success (e.g. not yet FDA approved), but believe that the highest possible quality of data can be achieved while ensuring patient safety. This means that, at the completion of the trial, those involved will have possibly found successful treatment and such treatment can move forward toward use for the general population.

Here are some core benefits to clinical trial participation at Austin Retina:

  • Participants will (potentially) have access to the newest and most advanced drug(s) ahead of FDA approval.
  • The “worst case scenario” for participation is that a patient would receive standard care.
  • Participants enjoy “extra” care as being involved in a trial includes additional blood testing or imagining – all of which are carefully monitored by the trial’s clinical team.
  • There is no cost to the patient – ever. Patients might even receive a stipend.
  • Patients are connected with a main coordinator throughout the trial for every visit over the course of 6/12/24 months – A true VIP experience.
  • A trial is an opportunity to receive potential treatment when no other remedy is currently available.

Who is a good candidate for a clinical trial?

The answer to this is very dependent on the type of clinical trial being offered and the symptoms and condition a patient is experiencing. For example, a patient may have condition “X” but not display any symptoms relating to a specific clinical trial, so they would not be a good fit for that trial. Of course, your doctor is the best resource for advice regarding clinical trials that are applicable to your individual situation.

We recommend that you connect with your doctor in order to determine whether there is a trial you can participate in. Your doctor will only recommend a trial if he or she believes it will be of significant benefit to your health – having someone enter into a clinical trial is not taken lightly or without real consideration.

How do I find out whether I can participate in a clinical trial?

As noted, your doctor is the one to talk to about participating in a clinical trial. At Austin Retina, we frequently enroll patients in open clinical trials when possible. Sometimes, a clinical trial can reach capacity and we are unable to continue enrollment. You can learn more about trials that are currently open for enrollment here. You can also contact our office to ask about clinical trial participation today.

Fun in the Sun: 5 Summertime Eye Health Tips

Woman wearing sunglasses and a hat

Long days and plenty of outdoor activities equal more time spent in the sun—particularly in Texas. While the dog days of summer may mean fall is not far away, it’s important to be mindful of your eyes’ unique needs long after Labor Day. Here are five easy tips to keep your eyes safe all summer long—and all year round.

Don’t Forget the Shades

Just like your skin, your eyes require special care when it comes to UV exposure, so don’t forgo the sunglasses—even on a cloudy day. According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), “studies show that exposure to bright sunlight may increase the risk of developing cataracts and growths on the eye, including cancer.” Long-term exposure to sunlight can also increase the risk for certain conditions within the eye, such as solar retinopathy or choroidal melanoma. In addition, eyes can become “sunburned” which causes a painful condition known as photokeratitis.

To protect your eyes from sun exposure, be sure to wear sunglasses that provide 100% protection against both UV-A and UV-B rays, even when you think you don’t need them. A broad-brimmed hat can also help keep harmful sunlight away from your face and eyes.

Take the Contacts Out

Planning to hit the pool? If you wear contacts, swimming can pose a serious threat to your eyes without proper protection.

Like sponges, contact lenses absorb water—as well as any chemicals or bacteria that may be present, introducing germs to the eyes that can lead to discomfort, irritation, and potentially vision-threatening infections. In fact, according to the American Optometric Association (AOA), “serious eye infections can lead to blindness and affect up to one out of every 500 contact lens users per year.”

To keep your eyes safe, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recommends keeping contacts away from all types of water, including swimming pools, lakes, and even your own shower. If you must wear contacts in the water, consider no-leak swimming goggles—or better yet, invest in a prescription pair instead.

Play It Safe

Of course, swimming isn’t the only summer activity that requires eye protection. Whether you are finally getting around to those home improvement projects, playing sports, or just mowing the lawn, keeping your eyes safe should always be top of mind.

ANSI-approved protective eyewear is appropriate for most household projects. To prevent eye injuries on the court or in the field, check out the AAO’s recommendations for your sport.

Keep Them Refreshed

If you suffer from chronic dry eye, you know how uncomfortable the summer months can be. In addition to the heat outside and air conditioning inside, sweating, squinting, and even wearing sunscreen can irritate your eyes and make dry eye worse.

Keep your eyes comfortable by using artificial tears, wearing wraparound sunglasses outside that can block wind and dry air, and avoiding direct contact with fans or air conditioners.

Get a Checkup

Lastly, summer is the perfect time to get your kids’ eyes checked (and yours, too) before they return to school. Myopia (also known as nearsightedness) as a result of digital eye strain is on the rise, especially in children. According to the AOA, one in four parents have a child with myopia, making it one of the most increasingly prevalent vision issues in the U.S. Fortunately, these issues can be caught and managed with early intervention, like an annual eye exam.

Have questions about your eye health or need to schedule an appointment? We’re here to help! Contact us anytime at 800-252-8259 or [email protected]

Keep Your Eyes Safe This Fourth of July

Fireworks are a summertime staple, especially during the weeks before and after the Fourth of July, but the results of a homemade display can be harmful – and even potentially blinding. The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission’s most recent fireworks injury report found that 14% of all fireworks injuries resulted in eye trauma. In addition, fireworks were responsible for eight deaths and nearly 13,000 total injuries in 2017. 

According to the American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO), “fireworks can rupture the globe of the eye, cause chemical and thermal burns, corneal abrasions, and retinal detachment—all of which can cause permanent eye damage and vision loss.”

Don’t let your holiday celebration turn into a trip to the emergency room. Here is a short firework safety video you can watch with the kids, and five tips to keep everyone’s eyes safe this Independence Day:

  • Stand back: Be sure to light all fireworks in a clear, open area and watch from a safe distance—about 500 feet away for professional displays and 35–50 feet away when using fireworks at home. Protective eyewear is a must for both the person igniting the fireworks and the audience.
  • Keep clear: Avoid leaning over the top of or looking into any fireworks and never light a firework while holding it. Keep your body as far from the product as possible and once lit, move to a safe distance as quickly as possible.
  • Beware of duds: If a firework fails to explode, don’t assume it’s safe to handle. Never inspect or attempt to relight any firework that fails to ignite. Have water ready to soak duds and used fireworks before discarding.
  • Watch your kids: Even seemingly kid-friendly fireworks like sparklers can result in significant eye trauma as they burn at more than 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit (hot enough to melt some metals!). It is best to discourage children from playing with fireworks of any kind and supervise them at all times.
  • Leave it to the pros: Of course, the best tip of all is to refrain from using fireworks altogether and take in a professional display instead. 

Fireworks-related eye injuries are medical emergencies that require immediate attention. If you need emergency eye care, do not do any of the following before seeking treatment as they may make the injury worse:

  •  Rub or rinse your eyes
  • Apply pressure to the injury
  • Remove any objects that are stuck in the eye
  • Apply any ointments or take any pain medications

 If you need urgent care for an eye injury, head to the nearest emergency room or call 911.