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HealthWatch: Blindness Prevention

NEW YORK (CBS 2) -- It's an eye condition you've probably never heard of, yet it's behind one of every six cases of blindness in the country. CBS 2HD's Dr. Max Gomez reports on a new way to stop uveitis and other serious eye problems.

It's a pellet injected right into the eye, which does sound a little unnerving, unless you happen to be going blind, then you'll do anything to keep your eyesight.

When Gomez spoke with people who've had it done, they said they hardly felt it.

For Judy Leahy, it was a godsend. "I close my right eye and I realize my left eye is a total blur. It almost looked like it was in a fog."

Leahy is a painter and a good one. So you can imagine how upsetting it was when she couldn't see her paintbrush clearly. But because she hadn't gotten new glasses in a while, she figured she just needed a new prescription, so it took her a couple days to get to the eye doctor.

"She looked at my eye and she's like 'is there anyone with you?' She's like 'can somebody meet you?' And I'm like 'oh okay, but why?' She was like 'your eye is bleeding and you need to see someone now'," Leahy said.

The bleeding was coming from tiny veins in the retina at the back of Judy's eye, something called  a central vein occlusion, and untreated can lead to permanent vision loss or blindness.

"It's associated with high blood pressure, elevated cholesterol, other systemic vascular diseases, or it can also occur with age," said Dr. Mark Fleckner, retina specialist.

Fortunately, Judy got to Dr. Fleckner that very day, who realized that she was a perfect candidate for a new treatment called ozurdex.

Here's how it works: after some numbing eye drops, Dr. Fleckner uses a special device to actually inject a tiny pellet right into Judy's eye. It slowly dissolves over a period of six months, releasing a steroid directly into the interior of the eye.

The steroid helps the blood vessels seal the gaps that are leaking in the retina.

The osurdex pellet is also FDA-approved for a serious inflammation in the eye called uveitis, which can also cause vision loss. "A good number of patients will see an improvement of three or four lines of vision in one to two months of treaments," Fleckner said.

Not only is Judy painting again, but even more importantly, she can clearly see her granddaughter's adorable face.

"I probably would've been blind. But I am up, I am fine, and I can paint again," she said.

The lesson here is that if you notice a sudden loss or drop in vision, get to an eye doctor right away because the longer you wait, the greater the chance that the loss will be permanent.

The ozurdex injection is approved for uveitis and the vein blockages in the retina and can be repeated if needed.

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