Recent vision problems with MS remind me to focus on my progress

Why an optometrist is a key member of this columnist's MS care team

Ahna Crum avatar

by Ahna Crum |

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Is there something you now have that you once hoped and prayed for?

I’ve been struggling with the demands of a new job for the past few weeks. As a virtual dietitian, I heavily rely on computers to meet with clients and do other necessary work. But staring at a computer screen for up to 10 hours a day causes me significant eyestrain, which is frustrating. It’s also caused me to dwell on my perceived inability to make an excellent first impression or meet expectations.

Vision issues can mess with your head in more ways than one. They’re often accompanied by headaches or migraines, but in my experience, struggling with sight can also rob you of independence and self-confidence.

For me, there’s no better way to alter my perspective than making an appointment with my optometrist, who specializes in low-vision rehabilitation. For nearly two decades, she’s been an essential part of my care team for managing multiple sclerosis (MS).

As I was sitting in the waiting room for my appointment last week, a co-worker asked me the question I began with above, which helped to refocus my perspective.

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Reflecting on my progress

Although I’ve been focusing recently on the frustrations that come with vision challenges, I was reminded that there was once a time when I was praying for any degree of my eyesight to return.

When I met my optometrist, I was 16 years old and legally blind. I have a long history of vision problems, and losing my eyesight is how my MS story started.

As a teenager, I began to have visual disturbances. My vision was transposing images, and I didn’t understand the severity of it until my mom pulled the emergency brake when I was having a driving lesson. I saw us driving on the road, but in reality, I’d veered off into the grass. We immediately made an appointment to see an ophthalmologist.

I learned about esotropia, sixth cranial nerve palsy, optic neuritis, monocular vision, and diplopia (double vision) before I heard the term multiple sclerosis. Vision issues are common symptoms of MS because of optic nerve damage. Thankfully, the ophthalmologist recognized that my altered eyesight was indicative of nerve damage and possibly an early sign of MS. His attention to detail led to an MRI and my subsequent diagnosis of relapsing-remitting MS.

Not long after my diagnosis, the lights in my eyes dimmed, and I was sent to meet my optometrist for the first time for a low-vision exam. With 20/600 vision in my left eye and 20/200 vision in my right eye, I was declared legally blind.

The Division of Blind Services in Florida offered support and taught me the basics of Braille and mobility assistance, using a white cane for the visually impaired. We had no idea if being blind would become my new normal, but thankfully, it was temporary. I regained my sight 10 months later, though it’d been permanently affected to a degree.

Because of my damaged optic nerves, my eyes fight each other to render an image (monocular vision), resulting in significant double vision. I’ve also dealt with nystagmus, in which my eyes twitched back and forth; it caused my vision to jump, as well as color discrepancy and loss of contrast. Without glasses, my vision isn’t functional; it’s like looking through a kaleidoscope.

Thanks to my excellent optometrist, I have lenses that help to correct most of these problems. Prisms help me avoid double vision, and when needed, orange or yellow lenses can help with color discrepancy and contrast loss. I’ll now add another pair of glasses to my collection to help my eyes focus on nearby items, such as my computer. My optometrist is a cornerstone of my independence and perspective on life with MS.

Not only did I regain my sight, as I once prayed, but also — thanks to my optometrist’s attention to detail — I regained the ability to see fine details, such as the aspects of a person’s face, the colors of traffic lights, the lines that mark traffic lanes, and words on a page. I’ve also regained the ability to pay attention to detail while working. And I’ve even become addicted to portraiture drawing, obsessing over tiny graphite features.

My glasses not only allow me to focus my vision but also to refocus my perspective to appreciate details and understand that I’m surrounded by things to be grateful for every day. In this case, hindsight really is 20/20.

Note: Multiple Sclerosis News Today is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Multiple Sclerosis News Today or its parent company, BioNews, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to multiple sclerosis.


Sharon Momb avatar

Sharon Momb

I am a PT with MS. Working in the Healthcare industry as a person with MS has its advantages and disadvantages. Vision is key to ALL the documentation that is required. My vision has diminished and eye strain is an increasing problem. What is your home computer set up like? Any tricks you can share with us?


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