Personal Health

This Viral Tweet Is Convincing People They Have Astigmatism. Here's What That Really Means

It’s no black and blue (or white and gold) dress, but a recent viral post is making people seriously question their eyesight. Twitter account @unusualfacts6 posted a tweet on Sunday that claimed people can determine if they have astigmatism based on how they perceive light, demonstrated by two photos.

In the first photo, the light coming off of the brake lights and traffic sign are distorted, stretching into a wide, starburst shape. This is supposed to show how people with astigmatism see light. In the second photo, the lights from the traffic stop form a softer, halo shape, which is supposed to represent how people without astigmatism see light.

The tweet has amassed over 1,300 responses, including from plenty of people convinced that they have the condition.

Astigmatism, according to the American Optometric Association, occurs when the cornea is irregularly shaped. Because the cornea covers your eye, its distorted shape causes light to focus incorrectly in the retina, and as a result, can lead to blurred vision and headaches.

“Astigmatism merely means the cornea is not a perfect sphere,” Steven Shanbom, MD, a Detroit-based ophthalmologist, tells Health. “Very few people actually have a perfect spherical eyeball, and will have small degrees of astigmatism, but it doesn’t becoming clinically relevant until it’s curved in a greater extent.”

Dr. Shanbom explains that astigmatism vision problems happen when light is focused more in one meridian or axis than the other. Think of it this way: If light were to shine down on a sphere, it would bend equally in all directions. But with a cornea that’s not spherical, light bends in unequal directions, which can cause distorted vision. Although it may be uncomfortable, astigmatism is not unusual.

So what about that viral photo: How accurate is it?

Dr. Shanbom says that while the picture is “a little extreme,” it might resemble what someone with astigmatism sees when they look at a traffic light. “People can have distortions like that, especially at night,” he says. “If you have uncorrected astigmatism, you can see some star bursting of light, like we see in the first photo.”

Still, he notes, this photo is not an accurate way to diagnose astigmatism—you’ll need to make an appointment with your eye doctor for that.

And if you do find out that you have astigmatism, there’s nothing to worry about, he says. For people with extreme astigmatism, glasses, contact lenses, and Lasik surgery are all good treatment options.

“Having astigmatism is incredibly common,” he says. “It’s less common to have a perfectly spherical eye.”

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