I was recently put on Zyprexa and Cogentin and I'm having difficulty focusing my eyes. One thing I fear most in my life is losing my vision. Tell me, can these medicines cause blindness?
(Column: Ask the Pharmacist)
Billberry - Seeing Clearly
Steve Kaufman, RPH
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Many patients that are being treated for mental illness have or are taking medications that can affect their vision (dry eyes or blurred vision). The most common cause of blindness in this country is macular degeneration, which affects more than ten million people in the United States. There is no evidence that psychiatric medications' side effects cause this disease. So you can relax. It is most common in people with light colored eyes. African Americans and Asians have a much lower incidence of macular degeneration. Cigarette smoking more than doubles the risk of macular degeneration (MD).

The disease is caused by a chronic progressive deterioration of the retina, especially the center part which contains the macula. The macula enables us to focus and controls our ability to see fine details (reading, driving cars, differentiate color and recognize faces).

There are two types of MD: wet and dry. In the wet type, blood vessels leak fluids and create a blind spot in the center of the visual field. The dry form accounts for about 90 percent of cases and is caused by thinning and aging of macular tissue. Symptoms include blurred vision, dark or empty area in the center of vision or straight lines appearing wavy.

There are no definitive treatments for MD. The primary goal is to stabilize the condition. Laser surgery is sometimes helpful in the wet form but only if caught early. The best way to treat MD and other eye conditions is to prevent them. It is extremely important for everyone over 40 to get regular eye examinations.

The most popular herb used to promote eye health is billberry. Billberry was used by the British airforce during World War II to improve night vision when flying bombing missions against Germany. Billberry is a very powerful antioxidant which has a very high affinity to retinal tissue. It improves blood flow to the retina and supports regeneration of retinal tissue. Billberry can protect the eye from free radical damage and can actually stop the progression of cataracts and MD. Clinical studies conducted over the last 30 years have confirmed billberry's efficacy in treating eye disease.

The active ingredient in billberry is anthocyanoside, which appears to increase vitamin C levels and is a powerful antioxidant. The actions of billberry are increased when taken with other antioxidants such as vitamins A, C & E. To use billberry prophylactically or therapeutically you should be taking 20-40mg of anthocyanosides.

If you have questions about dosing or are taking other medications or being treated for other medical conditions, always ask your doctor or pharmacist before starting treatment. For further information about MD, contact the Macular Degeneration Foundation at (888) 633-3937, or visit their website at www.eyesight.org
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