Retinal Camera to the Rescue

Optometrist Rachel Wu says this high-tech tool can help identify eye-health problems beyond poor vision.

Rachel Wu, O.D., uses a high-tech retinal camera to help take care of her patients eye health.

Your eye is kind of like a camera—remember the old ones, with film? When light enters your eye, it makes its way to the back, where it hits your retina, takes a picture, and sends it to your brain. 

That’s how you see. The book you’re reading, the bright-red sweater that catches your eye, the show you’re binge-watching on TV: all brought to you by your retina.  

So when your retina’s not working up to par, lots of things can go wrong. An unhealthy retina can’t send clear images to your brain, leading to vision problems and serious eye conditions like macular degeneration and glaucoma. And problems in your retina can be clues that something serious is going on in the rest of your body, like heart disease or high blood pressure.  

That’s why it’s so important to make sure your retina is in top-notch condition. Yearly eye exams with your eye doctor are the first step. And, there's a new, high-tech tool on your side—the retinal camera.

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The retinal camera is an update to the ophthalmoscope—an instrument that looks like a flashlight and is used to shine a light into the back of your eye during an eye exam. The retinal camera uses infrared light to make a picture of your retina.

Optometrist Rachel Wu, O.D., makes the retinal scan part of every regular checkup at her office in the America's Best Contacts & Eyeglasses in Orange, Calif.

“It’s really important,” she says, “especially for people who have diabetes or high blood pressure or a family history of cataracts. There might even be something neurological going on in the back of their eye, and the retinal camera can help us detect that.”

That camera came in handy when a 17-year-old college student showed up at the store complaining of double vision. “She was seeing two professors in the front of the classroom and having difficulty doing her reading for school—and the other doctors she visited couldn’t seem to diagnose the problem.” 

Dr. Wu went right to her retinal camera, snapped a picture, and in 2 minutes, she had the answer: a condition called papilledema.

“That’s when the optic nerves in the retina are swollen,” she explains. “The increased pressure could be a sign of something really serious, like a brain tumor.” 

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She sent the girl and her parents right to the ER of the local hospital, where an MRI revealed that there was no tumor, but the girl did need intravenous drugs to relieve the pressure caused by the papilledema. Problem solved. 

“The retinal camera is a wonderful tool for eye care,” Dr. Wu says. “It allows us to take a picture and see what’s going on in less than 2 minutes, and it helps to diagnose macular degeneration and other retinal problems. It’s really important to use for patients who have diabetes. We can even give the patients the image on a USB so they can bring it to their primary-care doctor.”

Think of these snapshots of your eye as one more important piece of your healthy lifestyle routine, she adds.