Health Team

Duke provides extra support for often-misdiagnosed vision problem

Posted September 22, 2014 5:30 p.m. EDT
Updated September 22, 2014 6:06 p.m. EDT

— Most vision problems can be corrected with glasses or standard contact lenses, but those remedies don't work for keratoconus, which affects one of every 2,000 people.

Keratoconus changes the shape of the cornea, the transparent covering of the eye. A normal cornea is round, but with keratoconus, it is cone-shaped.

"Patients will come in complaining of blurred vision, glare, ghosting, multiple images in their vision," said Jill Bryant, an optometrist at the Duke Eye Center.

Bryant said there's no known cause of the disease, and many of her patients suffer for years without the right diagnosis or effective treatment.

"I've had patients who have been on disability because they were having trouble with their vision until they were able to get the right correction," she said.

Reggie Basden recalls taking his first vision test when he was drafted into the Army at age 18.

"I told them that I couldn't see the chart, so they thought that I was trying to get out of going in service," said Basden, now 66, who was diagnosed with keratoconus six years later.

Bryant has connected Basden with other keratoconus patients in a support group because most never meet another person with the disease.

"It's hard to explain to other people what I'm going through," patient Brian Vondette said.

Although some patients need a cornea transplant, many cases of keratoconus can be corrected with a scleral lens. Much larger than a standard contact lens, it rests on the white part of the eye rather than on top of the cornea.

"It allows the irregularity to hide behind it," Bryant said.

Treatment for keratoconus may also require other types of special contact lenses, she said.

For more information about Duke's support group for keratoconus patients, call 919-684-2477.