Eyes & Ears

Audiologist joins vision practice as part of community-focused expansion.

Of the five senses, vision and hearing are most closely associated. Sight and sound work in concert to create a singular conscious experience of the world around us. 

Acknowledging this relationship, Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute broadened its mission of service to the community and established hearing centers at its Brandon and Sun City Center locations. The centers, which opened in May, are directed by Alaina D. Hodges, AuD, soon to be Alaina Becker, AuD, a board-certified doctor of audiology.

“Operating a hearing center within an eye institute makes sense because we treat the same patients,” Dr. Hodges observes. “As people’s eyes age, so do their ears, and problems arise with both. Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute resolved to create an inclusive place where people can get help for their vision and hearing issues at the same time.”

Dr. Hodges uses advanced technology to diagnose hearing loss in her patients.

Dr. Hodges uses advanced technology to diagnose hearing loss in her patients.

Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute launched the full-service hearing centers after identifying Brandon and Sun City Center as underserved communities for audiological care. 

“The services we provide include diagnostic hearing tests, hearing screenings, hearing aid consultations and fittings,” Dr. Hodges discloses. “We offer free hearing aid consultations and recommendations. We also do cleaning checks, programming, adjustments and in-office repairs on hearing aids.”

Dr. Hodges often uses a tool called a video otoscope, which has a high-powered fiberoptic camera, to evaluate problems with the eardrum and within the ear canal. Additionally, as an audiologist, Dr. Hodges is trained to identify, evaluate and treat hearing loss and other related disorders, including tinnitus (ringing in the ears). 

But her passion is hearing aids.

“When patients come to us requesting hearing aids, we first examine their ears for wax buildup, which can lead to hearing loss,” Dr. Hodges details. “We then place them in the sound-proof booth and perform a hearing screening. We then go over the hearing exam, and if they are candidates for hearing aids, we help them choose from among our extensive selection of state-of-the-art devices. 

“Sometimes, patients are referred from their primary care physician or directly from one of Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute’s ophthalmologists. In those cases, we conduct a thorough investigation of the patients’ hearing. Beyond checking for wax and performing a hearing test, we also test for fluid in the ears and evaluate the middle and inner ear to look for potential medical conditions that may be causing the issue.

“We carry many advanced hearing aids, including rechargeable and invisible hearing aids,” Dr. Hodges reports. “We supply hearing devices that connect directly to patients’ smartphones and models that can be adjusted remotely. We service hearing aids purchased from other providers as well. In some cases, we are able to make adjustments to those hearing aids and further improve hearing capability.”

Growing to Serve

While broadening its mission with hearing care, the institute also expanded its service area for eye care, merging with the Gaffney Eye Clinic in Plant City. The union was sparked by a longstanding relationship between Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute founder Gregory L. Henderson, MD, and Gaffney Eye Clinic founder, Barry Gaffney, OD.

“Dr. Henderson and my father started their practices around the same time and have known each other for years,” confirms Jeremy H. Gaffney, OD, son of Dr. Barry M. Gaffney. “I joined my dad in 2011 after graduating from the University of Alabama-Birmingham’s optometry school. My brother, Daniel, is an optometrist at the practice. We’re a family group.”

Gaffney Eye Clinic sought the merger as a way to better serve its expanding community. 

“Plant City is growing tremendously, so we’re growing as well to accommodate its escalating vision needs,” Dr. Jeremy Gaffney explains. “Dr. Henderson’s group provides comprehensive cataract, cornea, retina and oculoplastic services. We wanted to bring that level of specialty care to Plant City.”

To that end, the clinic is adding to its building to accommodate more specialists from Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute.

“We currently handle everything related to cataracts up to the point that patients require surgery,” Dr. Gaffney relates. “Through our association with Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute, their specialists will provide cataract surgery consults at our office, so our patients won’t have to drive to Brandon for those appointments or for their postop care. We will provide that care right here in Plant City.”

According to Dr. Gaffney, when the building addition is complete, the practice will invite Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute’s pediatric ophthalmologist and retina specialists to the clinic as well. 

“Even now, our affiliation enables our patients with specialized needs to see the specialists in Brandon very quickly. And because we’re part of the same group, we work from the same medical records system. Following the same chart helps us better coordinate all of the patient’s eye care.”

The clinic already provides a complete range of optometry services, including comprehensive eye examinations as well as glasses and contact lenses.

“We’re a huge contact lens practice,” Dr. Gaffney elaborates. “We provide all types of contact lenses, including specialty contacts for patients who were told by other providers they’re not candidates for contacts. We help patients many other doctors are unable to help.

“We practice eye care to the fullest extent at our clinic. We treat glaucoma, macular degeneration, red eye and all ocular emergencies, just about everything related to the eyes.“

Home Base

The experienced team of board-certified ophthalmologists at Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute’s home base in Brandon diagnoses and treats many common eye conditions, including cataracts, glaucoma, blepharitis and dry eye disease. The team also provides cosmetic services and procedures to improve the appearance of the eyes and face.

“Cataracts are a clouding of the clear lens in the eye that leads to a progressive loss of vision,” describes Dilip Rathinasamy, MD. “All light entering the eye passes through the lens, which is made mostly of water and protein. 

“As a person ages, the proteins can begin to clump together, and the lens becomes cloudy. This clump can grow larger over time, eventually interfering with the light reaching the retina and, ultimately, the sharpness of vision.”

“The only treatment that provides a cure for cataracts is surgery to remove them,” adds Ana-Maria Oliva, MD. “Cataract surgery is one of the safest, most predictable surgeries, but any surgery has minimal risks such as infection and bleeding. Cataract surgery is a totally elective procedure.”

The ophthalmologists at Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute also treat patients with glaucoma, the second leading cause of blindness in the US. Glaucoma is the degeneration of optic nerve fibers that send signals to the brain and has been associated with elevated intraocular fluid pressure. This increased pressure damages optic nerve fibers, affecting vision. 

Glaucoma has no obvious symptoms in its early stages, but as the disease progresses and more damage occurs to the optic nerve, blind spots may develop in the peripheral vision. This often goes unnoticed until the disease is advanced and the damage to the optic nerve has become severe. Without treatment, this loss of vision can progress to blindness.

“It is estimated that about 4 million people have glaucoma, half of whom don’t even know they have it,” reports Ignatius C. Cyriac, MD. “Unfortunately, there isn’t a cure yet, so early detection is critical. Once we catch glaucoma, we can control it. The earlier we catch it, the easier it is to control.

“When we catch glaucoma early, it is often the case that the patient will never have a problem with their vision. We try to prevent them from ever developing a problem, so our treatments are geared toward reducing pressure within the eye, typically by using medicated eyedrops. Reducing pressure has been proven to slow down or halt the progression of glaucoma.”

Blepharitis and dry eye generally occur simultaneously, and if left untreated, they can lead to permanent eyelid and tear gland dysfunction as well as corneal damage.

Blepharitis is an infection of the eyelids and eyelashes. It is most commonly caused by an overgrowth of bacteria that live along the margins of the eyelids and the base of the lashes. Not only do these bacteria cause the symptoms of blepharitis, they also produce substances that inflame the Meibomian glands. Meibomian glands supply meibum, an oily substance that prevents evaporation of the eye’s tear film, thus causing dry eyes.

“Symptoms of blepharitis include itching, burning, tearing, a foreign body sensation and a red line along the lid margin, almost as if the person is wearing red mascara,” asserts L. Ray Alonzo, OD. “Some dry eye symptoms are similar to those of blepharitis. Symptoms of dry eye include decreased vision or intermittent blurred vision, a dry sensation and a foreign body sensation.”

Blepharitis and dry eye can be treated and possibly prevented if eyelid hygiene is properly undertaken. Approaches to cleaning the eyelids have improved over the years. Several years ago, an eye physician invented a mechanized system for scrubbing and massaging eyelids infected with blepharitis bacteria. It is called BlephEx®.

“During a BlephEx treatment, a medical-grade micro sponge is dipped in a solution similar to that in eye scrub pads,” Dr. Alonzo explains. “The sponge is placed on a small tool that resembles a drill, but instead of a drill bit, there’s a soft sponge. The tool gently spins to scrub and massage the eyelid margins, cleaning and exfoliating the eyelids and lashes and relieving symptoms.”

Under One Roof

The eye is often the first thing people see on others, and the look of their eyes says a lot about them. It’s essential to take special care of this area. When age, genetics or sun exposure affect the face and eyes, Robert J. Applebaum, MD, a fellowship-trained oculoplastic surgeon at Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute in Brandon, can help. 

“For those patients who have drooping eyelids, there is a safe, effective and cosmetically appealing option to improve their appearance called blepharoplasty, commonly known as eyelid surgery,” Dr. Applebaum notes. “Blepharoplasty is a surgical procedure that involves removing excess eyelid tissue. It can be done on the upper and lower eyelids and can have a dramatic impact on the appearance of the face.”

Among his nonsurgical services, Dr. Applebaum offers BOTOX® Cosmetic and gel fillers, including JUVÉDERM® and JUVÉDERM XC. These products are being used more frequently to help reverse the facial changes associated with aging.

“As our skin ages, the tissue below the skin, the dermis, gradually loses its major elements: collagen, elastin and hyaluronic acid,” the doctor educates. “This loss challenges the full, firm look of youthful skin. Dermal fillers are excellent solutions for reducing or eliminating wrinkles and scar depressions, and for replacing volume loss in the soft tissue of the face.” 

Joining Dr. Applebaum in providing cosmetic services and procedures is new oculofacial plastic and reconstructive surgeon Norberto Mancera, MD. Dr. Mancera’s special interests include eyelid disorders, tear drainage problems, facial trauma, orbital tumors and facial reconstruction, as well as office-based facial rejuvenation using BOTOX Cosmetic, facial fillers and other modalities.

Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute provides a complete range of eye care services for residents in the region through satellite clinics such as those in Ruskin and Sun City Center. These clinics help make quality eye care available to more people closer to their homes.

“Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute’s Sun City Center location is a multispecialty practice that tends to various ocular diseases,” observes Nandesh N. Patel, MD. “Whether the problem is cataracts, glaucoma, dry eye, a disorder of the optic nerve or a disorder of the retina or macula, we have specialists in many subspecialties of ophthalmology.

“I’m happy to be a part of the Sun City Center location because often some of these diseases coexist. A cornea specialist will see a disease in the setting of a macular disease and vice versa. It’s nice to have that collegiality among ourselves where if I’m treating one part of the eyeball but there’s something wrong with another part, I’ve got the relevant specialists to whom I can turn to examine patients and treat them accordingly.”

The Sun City Center location also provides comprehensive eye care examinations, as well as the diagnosis, treatment and management of a number of eye-rated health problems and conditions.

“Our large facility enables us to add additional subspecialists and offer even more services in the future,” Dr. Patel expounds. “The facility also provides a comfortable environment for our patients.”

Through the Continuum

The eye clinic at the Ruskin center offers complete eye care close to home for residents of that community.

“Here, we provide a range of eye care services for the entire family, from school-age children through geriatric patients,” points out Marguerite Kohlhepp, MD, who practices at the clinic.

“When patients consider eye care centers, I urge them to select one with skilled eye care professionals who can handle not only their general eye care needs, but also the many changes and diseases that can affect vision throughout a lifetime. It is that very thorough approach to eye care that we offer at our Ruskin clinic.”

Available services include comprehensive eye exams that test patient’s vision and general eye health, including eye conditions relating to diabetes, high blood pressure and thyroid disorders. The Ruskin clinic also offers management of serious eye diseases such as glaucoma, dry eye and macular degeneration.

“Our patients have access to the physicians in subspecialties who practice under the umbrella of Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute,” Dr. Kohlhepp assures. “Several of them come to our Ruskin office throughout the month. We can also make specialized treatments and surgeries available without the delays patients might experience trying to schedule first-time appointments with unaffiliated practices.”

The eye centers in Ruskin and Sun City Center are united with Florida Eye Specialists & Cataract Institute in one family of quality, dedicated facilities.

“Being part of such a well-respected eye care consortium has important advantages for our patients,” Dr. Kohlhepp maintains. “It means fewer transportation worries for the patients and immediate referrals, which are especially important in emergency situations such as retinal detachments. This increased access to care helps preserve vision in our communities.”

© FHCN article by Patti DiPanfilo Photos by Jordan Pysz. mkb
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