Vision and Shooting: Astigmatism and Keratoconus

I’d like to take some time here to discuss an important shooting and health related issue that is worth some attention. Information is fairly scarce out there, but I have no doubt many shooters experience vision related problems and have searched far and wide for assistance and tips.

A little background: As the “About Modern Rifleman” page indicates, it was only approximately three years ago that I began shooting. From the time I began shooting until this past summer, I noticed deterioration in my eyesight, primarily in my right eye. Assuming nothing was terribly wrong, I went about my business as usual and did little to nothing about it. Beginning last summer, I started experiencing headaches while at my internship. Keep in mind, I am in the IT field and spend a great deal of time on the computer. Through some self-diagnosis I was able to determine that I had astigmatism in my right eye and perhaps traces of it in the left. It was only after these headaches became regular occurrences that I decided to seek any treatment. After two trips to the eye doctor and a failed glasses prescription, it was determined that I possess a condition known as keratoconus, or KC for short. The doctors told me that KC has no cure and is a degenerative eye condition. In other words, the condition was expected to get worse.

Obviously frightened, but determined to find a workable solution to this challenge, I sought treatment from Dr. Price in Indianapolis, Indiana. Dr. Price is a leader in the field of corneal disorders and is among a very few doctors in the U.S. performing an experimental, but internationally common, procedure called crosslinking. I won’t go into the details of the procedure here, but the takeaway is that my KC has been stabilized in my right eye and my left eye is being monitored for changes. As much as I would like my right (shooting) eye to be perfect, the fact that my vision has stabilized is a great relief, especially considering the original prognosis. I hope to begin considering correction options in the near future.

This brings me to the real point of this posting. Over the last year with the condition, I have discovered a few ways to combat some of the issues presented by keratoconus and astigmatism in general:

  1. Iron sights, specifically peep sights are your friends. Peep sights change the way light enters your eye and can help to reduce the effects of the astigmatism.
  2. Red dots are generally not your friend. I find that green illumination seems to work a little better for me, but typically electronic sights are not very cooperative, especially in low light.
  3. Kill flashes, or any other ways to replicate pin-hole lenses are worthwhile endeavors. Though the kill flash on my ACOG is not the most effective in reducing my KC issues, a non-magnified sight may work well with one.
  4. Experiment with different scopes before you buy. Look for models with adjustable focus.
  5. To avoid eye strain, shoot in well-lit areas. This will also help to “wash out” some of the ghosting caused by astigmatism. It also narrows the light traveling into the contracted pupil through the imperfect cornea.
  6. Drink plenty of water and carry eye drops. Dry eyes will end a good day at the range as quickly as just about anything out there.
  7. If your issues are limited to one eye, learn to shoot with your off hand. Remember though, this is almost like starting anew for some people. It is always a good idea to train shooting from both sides. Tilt your head to shoot handguns with your good eye.
  8. Wear eye protection. Even if your eyes are flawed, they are the only ones you get.
  9. Don’t rub your eyes. KC and astigmatism have been linked to eye rubbing. Try to keep your kids from doing it too. Their corneas are still soft and prone to damage.
  10. If you think something is wrong with your sight, seek treatment. It doesn’t matter if it “isn’t that bad” and it certainly is ridiculous to avoid the optometrist (or better, ophthalmologist) simply because you do not want glasses or contacts.
  11. If at first the problem is not corrected, seek additional help. Rare issues like KC often go undiagnosed until they become much worse.

If I think of anything else I will certainly add it. If anyone would like to share their challenges with vision and shooting, please post them in the comments, on Facebook (www.facebook.com/modernrifleman), or email me at modernrifleman@gmail.com. I would love to start a discussion that may help other shooters cope with vision problems, both rare and common.

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