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Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome and How Your Eye Doctor Can Help

Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome and How Your Eye Doctor Can Help

Histoplasmosis is caused by breathing in the microscopic spores of a fungus found in bird and bat droppings. This can happen by disturbing soil that contains this fungus, therefore landscapers, farmers, excavators, and anyone who works with these types of animals are at a greater risk. Cleaning chicken coops, digging, and tending to crops can cause these particles to become airborne.

Beginning as a lung disease, this can spread to the eyes, causing a condition called Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome. Follow along to learn more about this leading cause of blindness for people aged 20-40 and learn how an eye doctor can help.

What is Ocular Histoplasmosis? What You Need to Know

Histoplasmosis is a fungal disease caused by infected airborne spores that have entered the bloodstream through your lungs. In the early onset the symptoms are very mild and are comparable to the common cold. Typically your body’s immune system will fight it from entering the bloodstream but there are instances where it can reach your eyes (ocular histoplasmosis syndrome) without you even knowing it. “Histo spots” can develop as tiny scars that are believed to be connected to the development of abnormal blood vessels behind the retina. With regular visits to your Calgary optometrist, these asymptomatic concerns can be addressed before developing into a bigger problem down the road. 

Histoplasmosis may have minimal symptoms in the beginning, however once it has reached the eye the symptoms can mimic those of macular degeneration. Some of these symptoms are: 

  • Colors not as vivid and may appear different for each eye 
  • Distorted vision (lines not straight) 
  • Flashes of light in your vision or “flickering” 
  • Central vision blank spots  
  • Objects appearing larger through one eye versus the other 

When you have these symptoms, or if you are at a high risk, your eye doctor will conduct several tests during an thorough eye exam to determine if you have Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome:

  1. Your optometrist will dilate your pupils with eye drops and examine the back of your eye (the retina) looking for irregular fluid or blood vessels. 
  2. Your optometrist will use Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) to take photos of your eye. OCT uses light waves to take detailed photos behind your retina.  
  3. An Amsler grid may be also used to determine if your vision is distorted. 

After a proper diagnosis from your optometrist, your options for treatment for Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome vary from medication to laser treatment:

Injections: There is a chemical called vascular endothelial growth factor, or VEGF that contributes to the growth of abnormal vessels behind the retina. By blocking these chemicals the abnormal growth caused by ocular histoplasmosis can be reduced. Your eye doctor will numb the eye with anesthetic drops and inject an anti-VEGF drug into your eye during a routine outpatient procedure. Repeat treatments may be required over the course of several months. 

Steroids: Using numbing anesthetic, your optometrist will inject steroids into the eye to reduce the swelling caused by ocular histoplasmosis. 

Laser Treatments: Using a highly focused beam of light, your optometrist will treat the area of the retina affected by ocular histoplasmosis. The eye will be numbed for this procedure as well. A small burn will occur when the laser contacts the affected area as it is correcting the blood vessels that are abnormal. While this will drastically prevent further damage or growth, a scar will form which can create a permanent blind spot that may be visible in your line of sight. This treatment cannot cure Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome entirely, but it will stop the progression. 

Your Best Protection Against Ocular Histoplasmosis: A Comprehensive Eye Exam 

Even with treatment, ocular histoplasmosis could affect your vision for the rest of your life and will need to be closely monitored by your Calgary eye doctor with regular eye exams. By maintaining this routine of preventative appointments, you greatly reduce the risk of developing serious complications.

Many Albertans have private health coverage for regular comprehensive eye exams, so if you have symptoms that are concerning, or are experiencing any changes in your vision, call 1-403-286-4884 or fill out the contact form below to book an appointment with our highly qualified and welcoming  team at Market Mall Optometry.


Q: Does age affect Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome?
A: Because this is caused directly by a fungal infection, age will not necessarily play a role in whether or not you develop ocular histoplasmosis.

Q: How can I prevent Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome?
A: Your best defense against developing serious problems with ocular histoplasmosis is to have regular eye exams with your Calgary optometrist. Using personal protective equipment when conducting work where bird or bat droppings may be present can also reduce your risk. 

Q: How long does Ocular Histoplasmosis Syndrome last?
A: While the initial lung infection will likely clear up on its own within a few weeks, once it reaches your eye it is something your Calgary eye doctor will monitor for your lifetime.

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