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Keratoconus and the Olympics

March 3, 2010 - Rodney Smith

For those of you who followed the Olympics over the past two weeks, you might have seen that the U.S. won gold in the four-man bobsled for the first time in 62 years.

What you may not know is that the pilot of that bobsled team, Stephen Holcomb, almost retired three years ago because his vision was only 20/500. Fortunately, surgery was able to restore his vision to 20/20. The cause of this vision loss was keratoconus. Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease that causes the cornea to bulge outward. The vision is blurred and the cornea- the front part of the eye- becomes thinner. This can sometimes be treated with glasses, but more frequently it is treated with hard (rigid gas permeable) contact lenses. The Olympian's case had become so severe that glasses and contacts could not correct his vision sufficiently to pilot the bobsled so surgery became the only viable option.

More specifically, keratoconus is a corneal dystrophy affecting perhaps one in every one-thousand people. And, as in Holcomb's case, it certainly can cause a substantial distortion in vision.

People affected with keratoconus may see multiple images, streaking and may even suffer from sensitivity to light Typically this dystrophy is diagnosed in the patient's adolescent years. Vision generally declines until into the twenties and thirties. And its most severe state is also reached in the twenties and thirties.

This probably sounds horrible. However, keep in mind that most cases can be treated with some sort of corrective lens, usually a hard contact lens. And these hard lenses are generally able to manage things with little or no impairment to the patient's quality of life.

If you have any questions about this, or think you might suffer from keratoconus, do not hesitate to give me a call.

Dr. Smith practices inside Target in Cape Coral and can be reached at (239) 573-4743 or


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