Ocular Histoplasmosis: The Bird Droppings Disease

Ocular histoplasmosis is a systemic fungus disease and is one of the main causes of central-vision blindness - which is often severe enough to qualify as legal blindness - among people aged 20 to 40.

  • Occular Histoplasmosis
    The Histoplasma capsulatum, which causes the disease and the histoplasmosis problems in the lungs, thrives best in soils that have accumulated droppings from chickens, pigeons, starlings, other birds, and bats.

  • Occular Histoplasmosis

You may think you just have the flu, or that your sudden eye problem is merely a sign of weariness. However, if you've ever been around a chicken coop, a pigeon roost, or in a bat filled cave, that persistent malady or visual disorder could be evidence of . . .

Finally, the Thanksgiving holidays had arrived . . . and not a moment too soon! My last few days of teaching had been the pressured, emotional sort that nightmares are made of . . . so I wasn't surprised when, on the day before Thanksgiving, I came down with what I assumed was a light case of the flu. It was typical, because my body — like those of so many other educators — knew when it could and could not get sick. If it was going to collapse, it always waited until the first 48 hours of vacation . . . and then bounced back, ready to go, when classes resumed.

More Than Tired Eyes

Sure enough, by the end of the weekend I was feeling fine. I wasn't even too upset at the thought of that 6:30 AM alarm set for the next morning. (After all, a four-week semester break was due in less than 20 days!) Yet early Monday, when the radio began broadcasting the news, I peeked out from under the pillow . . . and my right eye was so tired it couldn't see the radio. And while I drove the 46-mile trip to work, my eyes still seemed to be struggling to focus. However, it was Monday, a day when nothing ever functions quite right.

During the next two weeks, though, my eye problem got worse. Lines that were straight didn't appear that way. Even telephone poles curved. I'd spot two cars that seemed about to crash, then realize, as the images merged into one, that I was seeing double. And, on top of the long haul to work, I also had to hit the road to supervise student teachers. This wasn't the time to call in sick . . . so I just assumed that my body was collapsing uncharacteristically early for the Christmas break or was starting to sing the over-30 blues, and I tried to let it go at that. Still, I reasoned, maybe it was time for an eye exam.

A Not-So-Rare, Dangerous Disease

The visit I eventually made to a trusted family optometrist seemed routine enough until he said, "I need to get some pictures to show you." Then, along with explaining how the eye's interior is put together, he drew some diagrams that spelled trouble. It seems I had symptoms of a disease he hadn't seen for 20 years, and he thought them serious enough to make me an appointment with an ophthalmologist at a nearby university hospital. (My mind started racing: Christmas was less than a week away. I had to go shopping. Finals needed to be graded. And this was all just due to pressure anyway, wasn't it?)

Three days later, the ophthalmologist poked (while asking about previous pets), prodded (while inquiring about my living environment), and photographed my right eye (while querying if I'd ever had any contact with pigeons or other birds). He then explained that I had a very active case of something known as presumed ocular histoplasmosis. It seems that 10 to 30 years ago, fungus spores called Histoplasma capsulatum had entered my body . . . probably through my lungs. At the time, the mild symptoms they caused might have made me think I had a slight cold. For some reason, though, instead of lodging in the breathing tissue, as they normally do, the tiny spores moved to my eyes, where they formed inactive scars called "histo spots".

7/22/2008 2:09:40 AM

I had histo since I was 25, and had not been around any birds of any kind. from Ohio. was told the great lakes area had to most cases. today, I have wet mac. question/ did this turn into wet mac, or do I have both. can't afford any treatments. lack of funds and health insurance, and job., so I don't get any more answer. I am 60. It happened all at once, I went outside on a really snowy bright day, downtown, looked up and had some big snowflakes land on my face and tongue. went inside to work., I started seeing in 3-D. no kidding. was a friday, and that tues, I was at the eye surgeons office. was sent to Columbus, where they do the rare disease testing. They confirmed it. My dr. had diagnosed it, but because of my young age, he wanted a second opinion. great doctor! they don't make them like him anymore., unfortunately.

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