Many people have never heard of keratoconus, which isn’t surprising since it isn’t a common eye disease. However, it does have a significant effect on patient vision and quality of life, requiring patients to have professional intervention so that they can continue to enjoy clear vision.
Keratoconus is characterized by the progressive thinning of the clear, domed front part of the eye called the cornea which causes it to bulge outwards in a cone-like fashion. The corner is responsible for refracting the light as it enters the eye so that our brains interpret them as a clear vision. When the cornea bulges, the light isn’t refracted correctly, causing distorted vision. Keratoconus can also make it difficult for people to wear contact lenses to correct their vision.
Keratoconus usually occurs when there is a weakness in the microscopic collagen fibers that usually hold the cornea in an evenly-formed dome shape. When the fibers become weaker, they are no longer able to support the cornea in a regular shape and it begins to bulge outwards. The more it bulges, the more cone-like it becomes. The weakness is thought to be a result of a decrease of antioxidants within the body.
Keratoconus isn’t very common, but some studies show a familial link meaning that if you have blood relatives with the condition, you may be more likely to develop it too. It is also more common in people who suffer from eye allergies, and in patients who have suffered trauma to their eyes.
Although keratoconus can start to develop at any time, it most often begins during the teenage years when the patient undergoes a period of rapid growth. Symptoms can vary between patients, but typically include:
The mild blurring of the vision
Straight lines becoming wavy or bent
Increased sensitivity to light
Redness of the eyes
Swelling around the eyes
Problems with wearing contact lenses
A vision that gets progressively worse
How quickly the symptoms of keratoconus develop varies significantly too. Some people will notice symptoms quite promptly, and these will progress fairly rapidly. However, others will find that the progression of keratoconus is very slow. You can experience these symptoms in one eye or both, and the rates of development can vary between the eyes too.
Keratoconus is often detected at regular comprehensive eye exams, meaning that if you are affected, there is a good chance it will be picked up by your eye doctor before you experience any symptoms. Diagnosing the condition is also simple, and usually, a simple physical examination is enough to confirm it.
The treatment that you are offered for keratoconus will depend on the severity of your condition and how fast it is progressing. However, the ultimate aim of treatment is to slow the progression of the disease and improve your vision. Some of the options that you may be suggested to try could include:
Soft contact lenses. As you might expect, these contacts are made from soft material that makes them very comfortable to wear. They are a little larger in diameter than regular contact lenses which help to keep them stable on the eye’s surface, improving your quality of vision. They also naturally help to reshape the cornea a little. Soft contact lenses are usually the first treatment recommended for patients with mild keratoconus.
Gas permeable contact lenses. These lenses are made from a special material that allows oxygen to pass through them and reach the surface of your eyes, preventing them from drying out and helping patients to avoid dry eye syndrome. These lenses are also more rigid than the soft variety, which helps them to retain their shape and provide you with clear vision. Nevertheless, they are less comfortable than soft contacts and some patients need time to get used to wearing them.
Scleral contact lenses. Specialty contact lenses, scleral lenses have a slightly different design to conventional contacts in that they don’t make full contact with the surface of the eye but instead, vault over the cornea. This provides enough space to accommodate any corneal abnormalities, like the bulging that characterizes keratoconus. They are also much larger in diameter than ordinary contacts, which keeps them stable and ensures clear vision.
If contact lenses aren’t successful in treating your keratoconus, you may be recommended to undergo a surgical treatment instead. There are several options including a minimally invasive procedure called keratoplasty, which involves a hand-held device emitting radio waves being used to reshape the cornea. Another option is something called crosslinking, which replaces and strengthens the fibers in your cornea to reverse the bulging. Finally, there is a corneal transplant that sees your cornea removed and replaced with an artificial lens, but this is usually the very last resort.
For more information about keratoconus, or to schedule an appointment with our experienced and knowledgeable eyecare team, please contact our offices in Ft. Mitchell KY or Dry Ridge KY today.