What Is Keratoconus?
Keratoconus is a disease that creates a thinning of the cornea or the clear front surface of the eye. Normal outward pressure within the eye causes the cornea to progressively bulge into a cone-like shape. The change in the cornea’s shape can have a dramatic impact on one’s vision.
In more severe cases, normal everyday activities such as driving and reading can be difficult to perform. Although keratoconus rarely results in total blindness, 20% of all patients will at some time need to undergo a corneal transplant, according to medical experts.
What Causes Keratoconus?
Researchers estimate that keratoconus affects 1 in 2000 people. The disease affects men and women alike and there are no known differences between races.
Although the cause of the disease is unknown, research has suggested that genetics, allergies and other environmental factors may contribute to the onset of the disease.
What Keratoconus Treatment Options Are Available?
Typically, an eye care professional will treat early stage keratoconus with contact lenses or glasses addressing the early vision correction needs of the patient. In later stages, rigid gas permeable contact lenses are often recommended. These lenses are used to improve one’s vision and to brace the bulge in the cornea. In advanced cases, where the patient can no longer achieve adequate functional vision with contact lenses, corneal transplant surgery may be necessary.
Due to the onset and progression of keratoconus, the weakened cornea loses its natural dome-like shape. As a result, the light rays entering the eye are no longer focused properly, impairing one’s ability to see images clearly. Corneal cross-linking is a medical procedure that combines the use of ultra-violet (UV) light and riboflavin (vitamin B2) eye drops. The procedure works by creating new corneal collagen cross-links, which results in a shortening and thickening of collagen fibrils that leads to the stiffening the cornea. Cross-linking, which has been performed in Europe since 2003, is considered the standard of care around the world for keratoconus and corneal ecstasia following refractive surgery. Many patients in the past with keratoconus had to undergo a cornea transplant if the disease continued to progress. Corneal cross-linking is effective in halting the progression of keratoconus and corneal ectasia.