Like most disabilities, loss of vision or complete blindness is not a distinct disease or disorder, but rather a condition brought on by any number of illnesses and injuries. Some, like glaucoma or cataracts, are more common than others. There are, however, more conditions which are much rarer. Here at DisabilityLawyer.com, we will provide in depth looks at some of the more uncommon causes of this particular disability, and how they can affect a case for social security disability.
The condition we’ll be looking at today is known as keratoconus, from the Greek “horn cone.” I recently met a client with this rare disorder, and have since learned a great deal about it. In this post, we’ll look at what keratoconus does, where it comes from, and how it can lead to a finding of disability.
1. What is keratoconus?
Keratoconus is a disease that affects the cornea, which is the transparent membrane that covers the outer portion of the eye. Normally, a cornea takes on a curved shape, but when it is afflicted with keratoconus, it begins to grow much thinner and changes to a pointed, conical shape. Thus, the name of the disease.
Keratoconus’ alteration of the shape of the cornea causes light entering into the eye to be distorted and refract improperly. This causes serious vision problems as the back of the sufferer’s eye is unable to receive clear images. Objects and shapes tend to appear multiple times to a person with keratoconus, and they swirl and move around the original object. This is known as monocular polyopia. It is also common for overall visual acuity, or the clarity of vision, to be reduced at all distances, meaning the person experiences worsening blurriness regardless of how far an object is away from them. These two symptoms can combine to cause severe sensitivity to light and powerful headaches as a person squints and struggles to focus on objects.
2. Where does keratoconus come from?
While the unique shape of an eye affected by keratoconus, and the unique symptoms it causes, make it easy to recognize, it is much more difficult to determine what exactly causes it. It has been suggested that there is a genetic cause, as it is much more common among close family members than in the general population. Instances of keratoconus have also been linked to other diseases, namely Down’s syndrome, asthma, allergies, and eczema. It is also possible to develop keratoconus following complications from LASIK eye surgery.
3. How can keratoconus lead to disability?
Like all other disorders of the eye, keratoconus can cause a person to become disabled, and entitled to social security disability benefits if it causes a person’s visual acuity to drop below a Snellen rating of 20/200, making them legally blind. It can also cause a sufferer’s visual range to drop below a total of 20% of the viewable area in front of their eye, effectively destroying their peripheral vision. This is also considered legal blindness. These are the types of findings you will need from your treating eye doctor in order to prove your disability.
Furthermore, in extreme cases of keratoconus, severe ocular surgery, such as a cornea repair or complete corneal replacement may be necessary. These surgeries can take well over a year to properly heal, and may or may not correct the vision problems experienced. This can also lead to a finding of disability, as a person healing from these surgeries may be unable to work for at least a year or longer. This is the requirement for Social Security disability.