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The 5 Wildest Eyecare Stories from 2019

Dec 27, 2019
6 min read

In 2019, we watched the world learn about why eyecare is healthcare, the illuminating aspects of intraocular pressure, and what kinds of insects could make their ways into people’s eyes . . .

eye of sauron optometry

The end of the year is a time for reflection. What made this year stand out? What did we accomplish, and what may we laud others for? What sea changes were there, and how can we adapt to meet the future? And, of course, what events, both wondrous and strange, went viral in eyecare and beyond?

Ok, maybe that last question is only asked by a certain subset of people—but it’s always interesting to see what happens when conditions or diagnoses in optometry get noticed by those outside the field. Here are the top five viral stories from 2019 that rippled from optometry and ophthalmology out across the internet.

April: Taiwan ophthalmologist finds sweat bees in a woman’s eye; entomophobes around the world shudder in horror

This is the 2019 story that started it all. Dr. Hong Chi Ting, an ophthalmologist at the Fooyin University Hospital, found four “sweat bees”—so called because they are attracted to both tears and sweat, which they consume for the protein—in his patient’s eye. She had been visiting her relatives’ graves the previous day, and, while weeding the area, she got what she thought was dirt in her eyes. The swelling, tearing, and discomfort did not subside overnight, and she went to the hospital the next morning reporting stinging pain.

Luckily, the patient kept herself from rubbing her eyes since she was wearing her contact lenses. If she had, Dr. Hong noted, the miniscule bees might have envenomated and she could have gone blind. Even if they hadn’t, the inflammation would have worsened and caused more damage.

While this was a first for Taiwan, the Review of Optometry noted that there have been more than 262 cases of sweat bees seeking out human tears, as reported in a study from Thailand. And the bees in this case? Still alive, at least at the time of the report—but they were immediately sent for study.

July: The insect reign of terror continues as tick found to blame for Kentucky man’s ocular discomfort

We’ve got to reiterate the Review of Optometry’s observation on the story of the sweat bees: optometrists and ophthalmologists can get pretty jaded by the variety of objects and lifeforms that can be found in patients’ eyes. But that doesn’t mean the patients themselves can’t be shocked, as in the case of the Kentucky man whose optometrist removed a tick from his eye last July.

The tick found its way into the patient’s eye while he was removing a tree from power lines. He flushed his eye, but the irritation continued, and finally drove him to see an optometrist. Some numbing and a pair of tweezers later, and the patient was out the door with antibiotics and steroid drops.

The tick, of course, wasn’t so lucky.

September: UK teen’s vision loss attributed to poor nutrition; diet of “junk food” the culprit

The tabloids caught this one. A case study from researchers at the University of Bristol found the cause of one teen’s poor vision: malnutrition. Nutritional optic neuropathy is usually associated in the UK and US with excessive alcohol use or strict veganism. In this case, the boy was known to avoid foods with abhorrent textures, leading to several vitamin deficiencies, anemia, and low bone density. It wasn’t until his vision loss was permanent, however, that the connection was made.

The lead author of the study, Dr. Denize Atan, pointed out that this study illustrated the crucial impact health has on vision and quality of life, and that all of these factors are connected. Just like the WHO report on vision, this story is only one of many highlighting how important of a role eyecare must play in health overall.

October: Trail running in California leads to second known case of human infection with Thelazia gulosa

A 68-year-old Nebraska resident was likely running in Carmel Valley, California in 2018 when she was infected with Thelazia gulosa, a species of nematodes or parasitic worms previously known to infect cows. That March, she flushed her eye to find two half-inch roundworms—and a third, the next day, when she went to a local optometrist in Monterey.

The roundworm was sent to the CDC, where researchers identified the species in a paper published in October 2019. The first known case of this parasite in humans occurred in 2016 in Oregon. If there are more cases, the researchers who documented this case noted, this might be a new zoonotic disease.

November: Pigment-dispersion syndrome causes iris transillumination; internet goes wild over “Eye of Sauron”

In a report for the New England Journal of Medicine, ophthalmologists Lance Lyons, MD and Alec Amram, MD described the case of a 44-year-old male patient who had recently relocated to the Galveston, Texas area. The patient had previously been prescribed a series of medications targeting his elevated intraocular pressure, and reported a family history of glaucoma. In examining the patient, ophthalmologists found what they described in the report as “circumferential spoke-like iris transillumination defects in both eyes,” which corresponded with an absolutely stunning clinical photograph.

“Move over, Dark Lord of Mordor. There’s a new blazing peeper in town,” wrote Beth Mole, PhD in a post at Ars Technica. “Ugh, this would be awful, my vision insurance only covers 20% of demonic possession corrective lenses,” wrote one commenter—but our favorite comment is probably from the person who pointed out that while the man was being treated for elevated intraocular pressure, it didn’t appear that any of his previous doctors had caught the transillumination until these ophthalmologists thought to do this examination and a subsequent gonioscopy.

Don’t forget that there are a variety of tools in the eye doctor’s armamentarium!

Our wish for 2020:

Reviewing the stories that went viral this year, we also have to acknowledge the big news that happened in the industry. Whether that’s the remarkable innovation of J&J’s Acuvue Oasys with Transitions, the class action settlement against NBEO, or the waves of consolidation across optometry, it’s been a big year for eyecare even beyond the viral, gross-out stories that shocked the internet.

Here’s to a happy, successful, and tick-free 2020!

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About Eleanor Gold, PhD

Eleanor Gold is the Managing Editor at CovalentCareers. She holds a PhD in English from the University at Buffalo (SUNY), where she wrote her dissertation on experimental fiction and philosophy in the Anthropocene.