Estimated to affect around 1 in every 2000 patients, keratoconus is a progressive eye condition that is most often diagnosed during the later teenager or early adult years. While it isn’t painful and will not cause total vision loss, it can cause significant difficulties with your eyesight that mean that you are reliant on a corrective solution in order to see more clearly.
Keratoconus affects the part of the eye known as the cornea. This is the transparent, domed area that covers the front part of the eye. In most patients, the cornea is a fairly even thickness and regular domed shape. However, in patients who develop keratoconus, the cornea gets progressively thinner and this causes it to develop a cone-like bulge. Unsurprisingly, this abnormal shape will affect the way that light is refracted by the eye, causing patients to become near-sighted. They may also suffer from issues with glare and sensitivity to light.
Exactly why some people develop keratoconus isn’t always known, but genetics and environmental factors are thought to have some influence. This is because a weakened cornea is more likely to develop issues with thinning and bulging. Oxidative stress is believed to weaken the cornea and make more susceptible to keratoconus, while some laser vision correction can also compromise the stability of the corneal tissues. Keratoconus has also been found to be more common in people who have had significant unprotected exposure to ultraviolet rays and in those who rub their eyes persistently, such as if they have eye allergies.
Fortunately, there are treatments available that mean that patients do not have to suffer the effects of keratoconus forever. Some of the treatments that you may be recommended to try could include the following:
Contact lenses are one of the most popular treatments for refractive eye errors and they can also be used by patients with corneal conditions such as keratoconus. However, patients with corneal abnormalities will need speciality contact lenses that are designed specifically to counteract the difficulties that they would face when trying to wear regular lenses. There are various types of speciality contact lenses including:
Rigid gas-permeable lenses (RG or RGP lenses). These are not to be confused with historical ‘hard’ contact lenses, but they still have a more rigid design than regular contacts and this helps to flatten the front surface of the eye to improve vision. They also allow plenty of oxygen to reach the eyes to keep them comfortable.
Scleral lenses are another popular speciality contact lens. Unlike conventional contacts, they vault over the surface of the cornea, leaving a gap beneath that can accommodate the bulge that characterizes keratoconus. They are also much larger in diameter (with several sizes available) so that they remain stable on the surface of the eye.
Another treatment option for keratoconus, corneal implant surgery, also known as a keratoplasty, is normally recommended if speciality contact lenses are not providing clear enough vision. The surgery can be performed using local or general anaesthetic and involves removing the bulging cornea and replacing it with an artificial version that is the shape and thickness needed to refract light directly onto the retina. Your eye doctor will be able to explain this surgery to you in greater detail.
If you would like more information about keratoconus, including the treatments that are available should you be affected, please get in touch with our office where our experienced and knowledgeable team will be happy to assist.