Although physicians often must root out the cause of bizarre symptoms, the neuro-opthamologist proves the ultimate detective by marrying two medical specialties to diagnose and treat complex and mysterious conditions.

Hartford HealthCare’s first neuro-opthamologist, Dr. Editha Johnson, recently joined its Ayer Neuroscience Institute and immediately began fielding referrals of patients with various symptoms impacting their sight.

These can include:

  • Blurred vision.
  • Double vision.
  • Vision loss, even if it’s transient.
  • Unequal pupil size.
  • Orbital inflammation.

Other, more generic symptoms can include pulsations the person can hear and headache.

“Neuro-ophthalmology is a subspecialty field of neurology and ophthalmology that studies the neurologic causes of visual impairment,” Dr. Johnson said. “We cross multiple areas, addressing many ongoing visual complaints and trying to manage them.”

Dr. Editha Johnson
Dr. Editha Johnson

Referrals can come from neurologists, ophthalmologists, optometrists, primary care providers or specialists in such fields as rheumatology and vascular medicine.

“Other specialties are often not sure what’s going on and need a second opinion,” Dr. Johnson noted. “Often, we’re the last stop.”

Dr. Johnson found her calling in residency when she did a rotation in neurology and the chairperson of the department was himself a neuro-opthamologist.

“I was excited about analyzing symptoms and investigating the many potential causes,” she said. “I’m an analytical thinker.”

After residency, she pursued a fellowship in the field at Weill Cornell Medicine/New York Presbyterian Hospital in New York City. This very narrowly focused specialty has just a few hundred practitioners in the country, although Dr. Johnson believes it is growing and “we’ll probably see more coming.”

Many of her patients may have what she considers “common conditions” such as headaches, which can be associated with visual complaints.

“You can have high pressure in the head that causes vision-related symptoms,” Dr. Johnson said. “We treat these patients with medication and lifestyle changes such as weight loss. Seventy-five percent of patients are off therapy in one or two years.”

Sometimes, patients coming to her have no symptoms at all, only finding a swelling of the optic nerve, the nerve that connects the eye to the brain, during a routine eye exam, she continued.

The neuro-opthamologist’s main objective for these patients is to prevent permanent vision loss.

“I put a lot of emphasis on patient history and exam as we try to figure out what the condition is and how to manage their complaints,” Dr. Johnson said.

She sees patients at her neuro-ophthalmology clinic in Hartford and for general neurology in Southington.

For appointments in either location, call 860.621.1896.