X-Factor USA finalist, Lyric Da Queen, is known for her signature eye patches. But the patch isn’t just a fashion accessory. In 2008, her right eye turned grey and she lost her vision. Doctors diagnosed her with keratoconus and just weeks later, the same thing happened with her left eye.

A conical bulge, caused by keratoconus.

A conical bulge, caused by keratoconus. See page for author [CC BY-SA 2.5 or CC BY-SA 2.5], via Wikimedia Commons

What is keratoconus? The cornea is the clear dome-shaped central part of the front surface of the eye. Fibers of protein called collagen help the cornea maintain its dome shape. But if those fibers become weak, the cornea begins to bulge and takes on a cone shape. This deflects lights on its way to the retina, causing distorted vision.

Back to Lyric Da Queen, she had a cornea transplant in 2010 that was successful but then reinjured the eye in 2012. Surgeons stitched the cornea back into place but her iris and lens were gone, leaving that eye blind. The day of the surgery, she got a callback for X-Factor USA. The surgeon cautioned her that she needed to stay in the hospital for a week for the eye to heal, but Lyric didn’t want to give up the opportunity of a lifetime; she discharged herself the next day and boarded a plane to go to the callback. She wore an eyepatch over her eye, which she was ashamed of and devastated about, but the judges loved the unique look and symbolism of it and with her mom’s customized eye patches, they ended up becoming her trademark and part of her identity.

Keratoconus appears to be hereditary and, if you have it, your children should start getting tested beginning at age 10. It appears that people with some medical conditions, such as certain allergies, are more susceptible to the disease. It could also be related to chronic eye rubbing, but many times, there is no injury or disease to explain the bulging that occurs.

Your eye doctor may notice symptoms of keratoconus in an eye exam, but some signs to look for are:

  • Sudden change of vision in just one eye
  • Double vision when looking with just one eye
  • Objects both near and far looking distorted
  • Bright lights looking like they have halos around them
  • Lights streaking
  • Seeing triple ghost images

To confirm the presence of the bulging of the cornea, the doctor will need to measure the curvature of the eye, of which there are several methods. If you do have keratoconus, solutions include eyeglasses, contact lenses, and — in extreme cases — removing the cornea and stitching in a donor cornea into place.