Fuchs’ Dystrophy is an eye condition that affects the cornea of the eye. Here is the story of one of the 18 million Americans who have been affected by Fuchs’.

Fuchs' dystrophy storyOn the way to her 3-month post-operative eye surgery appointment, Rachel reflected on this past year and her experiences with vision trouble. A year ago, the 55-year-old self-employed financial consultant started noticing distracting glares and halos around lights while driving at night. She’d mentioned this to her friend and bowling partner on the way home from the league one night and the friend shared her cataract surgery story, symptoms and experiences. Her friend had complained of glaring headlights at night and worsening vision and had been diagnosed with cataracts. She comforted Rachel with her story of her Tampa, Florida eye surgeon’s professional manner and the ease at which he removed her cataracts and restored her vision.

The next morning, assuming her symptoms were those of cataracts, Rachel made an appointment with a large eye doctor’s practice that she’d frequently seen advertised in the Tampa newspaper. One of their office locations was close to home.

After an extensive workup and exam, the ophthalmologist informed her that she had “early” cataracts. He could surgically remove the cataracts in both eyes and get her back to near “perfect” vision, with no halos around headlights. Being uncomfortable rushing into surgery, Rachel decided to do some research and put off scheduling the procedures until she’d learned more. After all, the symptoms weren’t debilitating at that point, just annoying.

Several months went by and, after her original cataract research efforts and deciding that her symptoms weren’t severe enough for surgery, Rachel hadn’t given her diagnosis much thought. The bowling league season had ended and she rarely found herself driving at night, so the halo symptoms were out of mind. One morning however, Rachel noticed a blur in her vision during her routine of coffee and the newspaper on her lanai. Staring out at the pond, she noticed the ducks seemed to have a fuzzy glow around them as the rising sun illuminated their busy morning foraging. Instinctively trying to use her fingers to gently rub the blur out of her vision, she felt a pang of discomfort. Later, checking her eyes in the bathroom mirror, she’d discovered a tinge of redness in the whites of her eyes.

Rachel opened her laptop and navigated back to the web pages she’d bookmarked during her cataract research a few months earlier, she discovered that discomfort, pain and redness were not among the cataract symptoms listed. In fact, the online advice was to see an eye doctor if there was discomfort or pain.

After 5 minutes on hold, Rachel was greeted with a three-week waiting time to get in to see her ophthalmologist. She booked the appointment. During the next few days, her symptoms seemed to get worse and there was a new sensitivity to morning sun reflecting off the pond that had started making her eyes hurt and water. A three week wait for an eye exam was just too long. She remembered her bowling partner recommending her Tampa ophthalmologist so she called her friend who shared the doctor’s phone number. Rachel was pleasantly surprised a few minutes later to have an appointment for this Friday with Bay Area Eye Institute, a Tampa practice of ophthalmologists and optometrists led by her friend’s surgeon, Craig Berger, MD., a board certified, fellowship-trained ophthalmic surgeon.

After an extensive workup by friendly technicians, Dr. Berger entered the exam room and introduced himself. It didn’t take him long into his eye examination to agree with Rachel’s previous doctor that she had early cataracts. However, there was a more pressing problem – Fuchs’ Dystrophy, in both eyes.

Dr. Berger explained that removing the cataracts would have been ill-advised without addressing and taking precautions for Fuchs’. He explained that this is a corneal eye condition and the cause of Rachel’s discomfort, sensitivity to light and also greatly contributed to the halos around lights at night.

Rachel was surprised to hear this from Dr. Berger. Her eye problem was supposed to be easily-fixed cataracts. She had so many questions: “What is Fuchs’ dystrophy? What are the symptoms? Why me? How is it treated?”

Let’s look and some of Rachel’s questions and get answers from Dr. Berger:

What is Fuchs’ Dystrophy?

Fuchs' corneal dystrophy

Fuchs’ (pronounced: fewks) dystrophy is an eye disease that affects the cornea, the clear dome “window” at the front of the eye. The cornea helps to focus light and protect the eye. Fuchs’ dystrophy causes the cornea to become thick and can lead to all the vision problems Rachel experienced, and then some.

What are the symptoms of Fuchs’ Dystrophy?

The symptoms of Fuchs’ can vary from person to person. Some people may experience only a few symptoms, like Rachel, while others may experience many. The most common symptoms include:

  • Glare and sensitivity to light
  • Blurred vision, especially in the morning
  • Eye pain

Why did Rachel get Fuchs’?

Fuch’s Dystrophy is hereditary. Some family members may be more severely affected than others. Her mother had Fuchs’ but Rachel only knew her mom had “eye problems” and she’d never discussed details.

How is Fuchs’ Dystrophy treated?

There is currently no cure for Fuchs’ dystrophy, however Dr. Berger offers several treatments and surgery that can help manage and improve the symptoms. These include:

  • Using sodium chloride drops and ointment
  • Wearing glasses or contact lenses to correct vision problems
  • Corneal transplant

Dr. Berger starts with glasses and sodium chloride for early disease and recommends surgery for more advanced cases. He is highly experienced in the following three options for corneal surgery to treat Fuchs’:

Corneal transplant — Penetrating Keratoplasty (PK)

A corneal transplant involves replacing the full thickness of a diseased or scarred cornea with new donor cornea tissue. Corneal transplants are very common in the United States; about 40,000 are performed each year and Dr. Berger has performed hundreds of surgeries over the last 20+ years

Descemet membrane endothelial keratoplasty (DMEK)Corneal layers in Fuchs' dystrophy

Like corneal transplant, DMEK transplants cornea tissue, but only partially. DMEK involves selective (partial thickness) removal and (donor) replacement of two of the five corneal layers: the Descemet’s membrane and endothelium layers.

Descemet’s Stripping Automated Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSAEK)

DSAEK involves surgically replacing diseased cornea tissue with donor cornea tissue. Like DMEK, only the damaged layer of cornea tissue is replaced, instead of the entire cornea. It involves selective (partial thickness) removal and (donor) replacement of three of the five corneal layers: about 60 microns of stroma, the Descemet’s membrane and endothelium layers.

DSAEK and DMEK are much less invasive options than the traditional method of total corneal transplantation (PK). No hospitalization is needed for any transplant surgery and the surgery only takes anywhere between 20 45 minutes.

Dr. Berger performed several tests and measurements, he suggested they perform a combined cataract surgery with intraocular lens replacement and DSAEK. Dr. Berger always takes great precautions and performs a thorough preoperative risk assessment prior to recommending surgery for corneal patients. He employs meticulous preoperative, intraoperative and postoperative measures to achieve the best possible outcomes for his patients.

Rachel’s surgery went flawlessly. It was an outpatient procedure, no hospitalization required. The entire surgery, including prepping the eye, took about 60 minutes and was painless. At a short one-week postop visit, her visual acuity had already started to improve.

Today, after arriving at Bay Area Eye Institute for her 3-month postop visit, Rachel discovers her visual acuity readings to be much improved. She is grateful to her friend for recommending Dr. Berger and ponders what condition her eyes would be in today had she not been taken care of by a surgeon with the experience to notice a cornea condition that would have been worsened by hastily jumping in to cataract surgery.

Dr. Berger and Bay Area Eye InstituteFuchs' dystrophy doctor in Tampa Bay, Florida

Craig Berger, MD opened the Bay Area Eye Institute in Tampa, Florida in 2007, specializing in the treatment of corneal conditions, dry eye disease, cataract and cornea transplant surgery.

Along with Dr. Berger, Doctors Gamell and Kerris, treat and manage a large spectrum of eye conditions and diseases at Bay Area Eye Institute. They accept most health insurances and will accommodate quick new-patient appointments.

The practice focuses on patient satisfaction. Their philosophy is to put the patient first, provide physical and emotional comfort, and strive for the highest care possible. Your time and comfort are paramount. They feel that patient education is an important aspect of treatment and will take the time to explain ocular conditions and treatment plans.

At Bay Area Eye Institute, they offer the most modern treatments for Fuchs’ dystrophy. Their office employs state-of-the-art technology and careful testing is conducted to tailor your Fuchs’ treatment. Bay Area Eye utilizes the most modern surgical techniques and technology for cataract, cornea transplantation, and glaucoma and eyelid surgery along with the latest astigmatic and presbyopia correcting intraocular lenses.

Bay Area Eye Institute is conveniently located in north Tampa and is easy to get to from all Tampa Bay area counties. They are open 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. on Monday-Thursday and 1:00 to 5:00 on Friday. Call them today and ask about setting up a cornea evaluation with Dr. Berger.

(813) 265-6940