I have a stigma!

“My last doctor told me I have a stigma”, says the patient. I reply, “Oh, that’s unfortunate, too bad I can’t help you with that – do you mind if I take a picture?” I then carry on with my examination.

A stigma, according to the New Oxford American dictionary is

  1. A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person, such as the the social stigma of a mental disorder, of illiteracy, or unemployment.
  2. In the plural sense, stigmata in the Christian tradition are marks corresponding to those left on Jesus’ body by the Crucifixion, said to have been impressed by divine favor on the bodies of St. Francis of Assisi and others.
  3. Medicine a visible sign or characteristic of a disease, such as a mark or spot on the skin.
  4. In botany, the part of the pistil of a flower that receives the pollen during pollination.

Regardless of the definition, what I can do will be very limited indeed except for to offer encouragement and to refer to a psychologist, a priest, a dermatologist, or a botanist, respectively. In all cases except the first, I will ask if I can take a picture, then submit to the Guinness Book of Records, or to medical journals for consideration.

Astigmatism, on the other hand, is something we deal with all the time. It is an optical condition of the eyes that makes it impossible to focus clearly. Objects appear distorted and blurred, and this is especially problematic with reading text. Astigmatism causes the eye’s focusing system to be active virtually all the time, and this causes great eye strain and frequent headaches. In moderate to severe cases, astigmatism will lead to a special form of blindness called amblyopia, aka ‘lazy eye’ (a term that is neither accurate nor helpful clinically).

“Research shows that even very low levels of astigmatism result in slowed reading.”

Children with astigmatism are much more likely to struggle in school and may even show medical and behavioural concerns simply because of difficult vision. Research shows that even very low levels of astigmatism result in slowed reading. Psychological and medical testing may conclude that there are developmental or medical concerns, but unless the astigmatism is corrected with glasses, and the amblyopia is corrected with therapy, the problems we see will not be helped.

Astigmatism, at low levels, is relatively trivial to manage. At moderate to higher levels, specialty care is required to assist in recovering lost vision due to amblyopia. Developmental optometrists are especially well prepared to correct and treat higher levels of astigmatism.

The message to parents and teachers remains the same: You MUST ensure all children are assessed for vision concerns. Low and moderate astigmatism can easily pass through simply sight tests, while higher astigmatism can be misinterpreted as something more sinister and complex, leading to unnecessary and even dangerous testing and treatment.

While there may be a stigma attached to wearing glasses, this is unjustified and ‘old school’ thinking. There is, in the end, no other solution for astigmatism. You owe it to your children to ensure their vision is checked regularly while they are in school.

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