Keratoconus, a pathological thinning of the cornea, directly affects about 12,000 Australians, with many times this number undiagnosed. But the impact of this disease often extends beyond the sufferer to their family and colleagues.
Help! My child is going blind
When a child or teenager is first diagnosed with keratoconus, it’s not unusual for the whole family, to accompany them to the consultation with the specialist. Crying is standard behaviour, and usually on the part of the mother or grandmother, because they have come to believe their child is going to go blind unless they have a corneal transplant. This is simply untrue.
Most practitioners are not experienced with prescribing glasses and contact lenses successfully for people with keratoconus. In the absence of a better solution, they look to the last resort treatment – i.e. a corneal transplant – as the only real option, when in fact, a corneal transplant is rarely required if the condition is managed properly from the start.
For example, did you know that more than 70% of people with this eye disease can get a pair of glasses that allow functional vision and meeting the driving test requirements? But they must be measured by someone highly experienced in keratoconus management. It really does matter that you choose a practitioner who sees this eye condition every day of the week – not just a few times a year.
However, glasses won’t work for everyone. 30% of keratoconus is severe enough to require contact lenses to provide adequate vision for safe driving and other critical tasks. A contact lens that provides clear, comfortable vision can almost always be found, provided you see an expert.
Are you pulling your weight in your employer’s eyes?
One of the problems with having keratoconus is that other people simply don’t understand the condition. They can’t understand why a simple pair of glasses can’t restore your vision to 20/20. If you’re not wearing glasses – because they’re not providing any improvement – then it’s hard for employers and colleagues to understand that you actually have a disability.
People with keratoconus suffer from eye strain quicker than their healthy-eyed colleagues. They may need more frequent breaks from detailed visual tasks, especially computers. The disease is associated with inflammation and dry eye, and the office environment can aggravate it.
Empathy and understanding in workplace is vitally important for the well-being of the employee. One of the best ways to achieve this is to have your keratoconus expert write a letter to your HR department, advising the extent of the barriers to optimal vision and a range of solutions.
The psychological impact
People with this eye disease suffer from anxiety. If they are held back from reaching their full potential or enjoying a good quality of life, this can create more anxiety in a worsening cycle that impacts relationships with family, friends and partners.
Poorly-managed keratoconus can restrict enjoyable activities such as driving at night, playing sports and even just going out socially. Self-esteem is often low in keratoconus sufferers who often believe they have failed in life.
By providing clear, comfortable vision, an experienced practitioner can really help to turn things around. Do your homework – research who the best person is to see, even if it involves some inconvenience. An expert may only need to see you a couple of times to get a good solution.