What is keratoconus?
Keratoconus is a relatively common condition, in our practice in which the cornea (the clear front portion of the eye) becomes thin and protrudes. Keratoconus literally means a cone-shaped cornea. This abnormal shape can cause serious distortion of vision.
Keratoconus describes a cornea that weakens as collagen fibers deteriorate, causing the cornea to adapt a cone-like shape. Keratoconus can cause blurred vision, light sensitivity, glares, and decreased night vision. In its early stages, keratoconus may be treated with the use of prescription glasses or contact lenses. However, if the condition becomes advanced, cornea transplant surgery may become necessary. This involves removing the damaged cornea and replacing it with healthy donor tissue.
The National Keratoconus Foundation (NKCF) is an extraordinary not-for-profit organization. The NKCF provides excellent educational materials and support for patients with keratoconus, free of charge. The NKCF also funds research designed to learn more about the causes and treatment if this condition.
What causes keratoconus?
Research indicates that keratoconus may be caused by an excess of enzymes that break down the proteins within the corneal surface, causing the cornea to thin and protrude.
It is believed that keratoconus is of genetic inheritance. Blood relatives of someone affected with keratoconus have minor changes in their corneas that may indicate that keratoconus probably varies in both specific genetic cause, as well as in its expression within a family. Vigorous eye rubbing can contribute to the progression of the disease. People with keratoconus should avoid rubbing their eyes.
What are the symptoms of keratoconus?
Blurred and distorted vision is the earliest symptoms of keratoconus. Symptoms usually appear in the late teens or early twenties. The disease will often progress slowly for 10 to 20 years. In the early stages the vision may only be slightly affected and may progress quickly. Visual blur, distortion, glare, light sensitivity, and corneal irritation are amongst the early signs. Each eye in an individual may be affected differently. As the disease progresses and the cornea steepens and scars the visual distortion will increase. A sudden visual decrease can occur if the cornea swells. The cornea swells when the elastic part of the cornea develops a tiny crack, created by the strain of the cornea’s protruding cone-like shape. The swelling may persist for weeks to months. As the crack heals it is gradually replaced by scar tissue.
How is keratoconus treated?
Visually glasses, soft, and hard rigid contacts lenses as utilized. As the keratoconus progresses the eyeglasses and soft contacts cannot correct the vision sufficiently. When that occurs rigid contact lenses are prescribed.
When contact lenses cannot improve your vision adequately, a corneal transplant may be necessary. Keratoconus is one of the most common reasons for corneal transplant, and one of the most successful.
New treatment is available to halt the progression of keratoconus.
Although not FDA approved here in the United States, collagen cross-linking (CXL) has yielded good outcomes in studies performed in Europe since 1999 for various forms of keratoconus. This non-invasive procedure uses ultraviolet light which reacts with riboflavin which is applied to the cornea via drops. This procedure strengthens the cornea by allowing the cornea to form new crosslinks between the collagen fibers within the cornea. This corneal strengthening aids in halting any further progression of the disease.
There are only a limited number of sites in the U.S. that have been invited to participate in the investigational studies of Corneal Collagen Crosslinking (CXL) for keratoconus and ectasia. Chicago Cornea Consultants, Ltd. was the first practice to offer this procedure in the Chicago area, in 2010. To schedule an appointment for a CXL evaluation, call any of our offices and ask to speak to the Vision Correction Surgical Coordinator, or use the contact form below.