Raise your hand if you’ve been personally stigmatized by your astigmatism.
A twitter post showing how people with the eye condition view the world around them, particularly at nighttime, has prompted more than 23,000 retweets with 55,000 likes at the time of publication.
The March 25 post from Unusual Facts shows two cars stopped in traffic at night. In the photo on the left, the car lights are blurred and flaring – what someone with astigmatism might see – while the photo on the right shows what a normal eye might see.
The tweet was met both with support and incredulousness.
Yes, it could be that the image on the left is from a dirty lens, as some users have suggested. However, the end effect is still the same: people with astigmatism see long, blurred, and flaring lights – especially when driving at night. Tens of thousands of Twitter users agree.
But don't go diagnosing yourself just yet. IFLScience spoke with Stephanie Marioneaux, MD Clinical Spokesperson for the American Academy of Ophthalmology, who warns against relying on the internet to solve medical issues.
"There are many things that it could be, astigmatism is just one of our long list of differential diagnoses that ophthalmologists could draw as a conclusion," she said, adding that the diagnosis could range from an improperly fitting contact lens to the development of cataracts to scar tissue on the cornea.
While the image could very well portray what some people with astigmatism see, it does not portray what everyone sees. Astigmatisms vary and it depends on the degree, as well as what type someone has.
"I would not say that, if you have an astigmatism, categorically this is what your life is like, no. It depends on the amount of astigmatism, but there are so many other types of factors that could make this type of distortion in your vision," she said.
Astigmatism is a common imperfection in the eye where the front surface of the cornea, or lens, is curved. The eye has two curved structures that refract light onto the retina to make an image. The cornea is found at the front surface of the eye along the tear film, while the lens is inside of the eye and helps focus objects. In a normal eye, these two structures curve together like a round ball to refract light and sharply focus an image at the back of the eye, but in astigmatism, the cornea or lens is mismatched and takes on the shape of an egg, creating a refractive error. When light comes into the eye, the curvature of the lens refracts light, causing blurry vision and nighttime streaks. An estimated 3 million Americans report cases each year with symptoms ranging from blurred or distorted vision, eyestrain or discomfort, headaches, squinting, and difficulty seeing at night time.
There are three primary types of astigmatisms made up of a combination of nearsighted or farsightedness, all of which can be detected using a routine eye exam along with a test called a retinoscopy. Astigmatism can be corrected through eyeglasses, contact lenses, or refractive surgery that changes the shape of the cornea permanently.
To those who see any sort of starburst, flaring, or distortion in their vision, Marioneaux advises they seek out medical attention from their eye doctor in order to determine the cause and best treatment.