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

in the ears. Researchers believe other factors may be involved, such as abnormal flow of spinal fluid around the optic nerve, changes in blood flow in the choroid, or changes related to chronic low pressure within the eye, which is known as intraocular pressure. They hypothesize that these changes may result from the fluid shifts toward the head that occur when astronauts spend extended time in microgravity.

The visual system changes discovered by the researchers may represent a set of adaptations to microgravity. The degree and type of response appear to vary among astronauts. Researchers hope to discover whether some astronauts are less affected by microgravity and therefore better-suited for extended space flight, such as a three-year round trip to Mars.

In their report, Drs. Mader and Lee also noted a recent NASA survey of 300 astronauts that found that correctible problems with both near and distance vision were reported by about 23 percent of astronauts on brief missions and by 48 percent of those on extended missions. The survey confirmed that for some astronauts, these vision changes continue for months or years after return to Earth. The possibility of near vision problems has been recognized for decades, and special "space anticipation glasses" to improve visual sharpness have been provided on all spacecraft dating back to John Glenn, who had a pair in his space capsule.

"In astronauts over age 40, like non-astronauts of the same age, the eye's lens may have lost some of its ability to change focus," said Dr. Mader. "In the space program's early days most astronauts were younger, military test-pilots who had excellent vision. Today's astronauts tend to be in their 40s or older. This may be one reason we've seen an uptick in vision problems. Also, we suspect many of the younger astronauts were more likely to 'tough out' any problems they experienced, rather than reporting them."

As part of ongoing research all astronaut
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Contact: Mary Wade
mwade@aao.org
415-447-0221
American Academy of Ophthalmology
Source:Eurekalert

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