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People With Visible Eye Deformities Face Prejudice

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The picture of the man with normally oriented eyes was rated more positively than the picture of the same man with his eyes altered on these characteristics:

  • attentiveness
  • competency
  • emotional stability
  • intelligence
  • leadership ability
  • communication skills
  • organizational ability

Having crossed eyes was rated more negatively than having eyes that drift outward, say the authors. And students viewing the picture of the cross-eyed man also rated him as being more humorous than the version of him with straight eyes.

"We have documented that people with strabismus have a right to feel that people do view them differently," Olitsky says. "It has been documented subjectively and objectively that people may benefit from surgery in ways other than purely correction of their visual function."

Olitsky sees surgery to correct this problem in adults as a reconstructive procedure rather than a cosmetic one. He hopes his study and others should help change the policies of insurance companies and the beliefs of medical professionals who might deny patients this type of corrective surgery.

"You shouldn't allow physicians to tell you -- just because you might not achieve certain things visually that we would ideally like you to achieve -- that surgery can't benefit you," Olitsky tells WebMD readers. "If your insurance company says no, they should know that there are studies in the literature like this one that indicate this surgery is necessary."

David K. Coats, chief of ophthalmology at the Texas Children's Hospital/Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, agrees with Olitsky. "People in the field of ophthalmology who manage strabismus and strabismus surgery for a living have always had the gestalt feeling that strabismus had a pretty profound impact on people's lives, both socially and vocationally. ? [The] study nicely demonstrates what we believed was the case, in fact is the case: strabismus is a very detrimental thing for anyone to have." Coats reviewed the study for WebMD.

Coats conducted a study similar to Olitsky's, in which altered photos were attached to equally qualified resumes for jobs. They found a woman with strabismus had a much lower likelihood of getting the job in question than a woman with straight eye alignment.

Coats has witnessed the psychosocial effects of strabismus surgery. He says that he has frequently encountered patients who, within weeks of surgery, report getting a new job, a promotion, or new boyfriend or girlfriend.

"This is a good article that takes a different approach" to previous studies, says John L. Keltner, MD, chairman of the department of ophthalmology at the University of California, Davis. "It makes one more important contribution to helping us understand the importance of this very overlooked part of ophthalmology. Having crossed eyes, more than eyes that drift out, has tremendous implications. ? I think this is underappreciated by insurance companies."

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