A diagnosis of keratoconus usually comes in your mid to late teens – which can coincide with the most important exams of your life (or so it would seem at the time) – your Higher School Certificate (HSC).
With many career options riding on the results, it is no wonder so many students want to perform at their very best. But how does an eye condition like keratoconus impact on your performance and what can you do to improve your chances?
Keratoconus – different for everyone
If there’s one thing we’ve learned after three decades of seeing keratoconus week-in, week-out, is that this eye condition affects everyone differently.
Maybe you can see well enough to drive, maybe you can’t. Maybe you can play sports, maybe you can’t. The same goes for other aspects of living a fulfilling life.
This condition presents in a spectrum from barely perceptible (usually undiagnosed) to legally blind. And everything in between. Where you fit in to the picture depends on a number of factors including:
- the rate of progression of your disease (or how fast it’s getting worse)
- whether you have had collagen cross linking in an attempt to stabilise the condition
- whether you wear glasses or contact lenses successfully
- whether you have had a corneal graft, and if so,
- whether your graft has failed.
7 Strategies to help keratoconus sufferers ace their exams
- Even if you don’t wear contact lenses, DO wear the clearest possible glasses. It amazes us how many people we see with keratoconus who don’t even wear the right glasses. Whether it’s the wrong glasses or no glasses at all, you’re doing yourself a huge disservice if you’re not wearing the clearest possible prescription. If you haven’t had your prescription changed in a couple of years, chances are very strong that your glasses are not providing the clearest possible vision. See your keratoconus practitioner and make sure you’re wearing your up-to-date script. You may be amazed how much clearer everything can be.
- DO persist with your contact lens practitioner (who should be highly experienced in keratoconus) until you have clear, comfortable vision. If we had a dollar for everyone who said ‘contact lenses don’t work for me’ and later walked out with clear, comfortable vision, we could probably retire! Properly-fitted contact lenses will almost always provide superior vision to glasses in moderate to severe keratoconus.
- Keratoconus is closely associated with allergies such as hay fever. Make sure your eyes are not itchy or scratchy during study or exams. DO use over the counter anti-allergy drops such as Zaditen, which can make a significant difference to how distracting your eyes can be during times when it’s important to concentrate.
- DO apply to the Board of Studies for special provisions. This process is usually facilitated by your teachers and applications need to be in by the end of term 1 (April). If your eye condition is severe enough to cause difficulty with writing, reading, concentration etc, you may qualify for special provisions during exams. Depending on the degree of impairment, one or more provisions may be applied for and include provisions such as rest breaks, separate supervision, extra writing time, a reader (or writer), or the use of a laptop. Ask your eye care practitioner for a letter and supporting evidence of your visual impairment. You will need to go through a complex process of getting reports from various health professionals and teachers, but it can be a game-changer for many students.
- Be prepared for contact lens dramas – if it can go wrong it will, and no one needs contact lens hassles in the middle of a big exam. DO bring a couple of vials of non-preserved lubricating eye drops as well as your glasses and contact lens storage case, just in case you have to take them out before or during the exam.
- DO make sure you BLINK. Whether you wear glasses or contact lenses, your vision will function at its best when your eyes are well lubricated. Staring at exam questions in an air-conditioned room can cause the surface of your eyes to dry out, leading to blurry vision. Simply blinking fully and regularly will restore your clearest vision.
- DO study as hard as your visually-normal school mates! Just like you can’t win lotto unless you buy a ticket, you can’t do well in your HSC if you skip the most important part – preparation.