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NASA-sponsored study describes how space flight impacts astronauts' eyes and vision
Date:11/3/2011

SAN FRANCISCO November 3, 2011 A new study sponsored by NASA finds that space flights lasting six months or more can cause a spectrum of changes in astronauts' visual systems. Some problems, including blurry vision, appear to persist long after astronauts' return to Earth. The results are affecting plans for long-duration manned space voyages, such as a trip to Mars. The study team included ophthalmologists Thomas H. Mader, MD, of Alaska Native Medical Center and Andrew G. Lee, MD, of The Methodist Hospital, Houston, Texas. Their report is published in October's Ophthalmology, the journal of the American Academy of Ophthalmology

The researchers studied seven astronauts, all of whom were about age 50 and had spent at least six continuous months in space. All reported that their vision became blurry, to varying degrees, while on the space station. Vision changes usually began around six weeks into the mission and persisted in some astronauts for months after their return to Earth. Drs. Mader and Lee agree that the eye abnormalities appear to be unrelated to launch or re-entry, since they occurred only in astronauts who spent extended time in microgravity.

In-depth examination of the seven astronauts revealed several abnormalities. All of the subjects had one or more of the following changes in the tissues, fluids, nerves and other structures in the back of the eye:

  • Flattening of the back of the eyeball (five subjects);
  • Folds in the choroid, the vascular tissue behind the retina, which is the light sensitive area in the back of the eye (five subjects); and
  • Excess fluid around and presumed swelling of the optic nerve (five subjects).

Such abnormalities could potentially be caused by increased intracranial pressure−that is, pressure inside the head. However, none of these astronauts experienced symptoms usually associated with intracranial pressure, such as chronic headache, double vision, or ringing
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Contact: Mary Wade
mwade@aao.org
415-447-0221
American Academy of Ophthalmology
Source:Eurekalert

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