When the cornea covering the iris and pupil changes into a cone-like shape instead of its normal round shape and it begins to thin, this is an eye disorder called keratoconus. With this eye disease vision is impacted negatively – the cone-shaped cornea bends light when it is entering the eye as it attempts to reach the retina at the back of the eye. Thus, the light-sensitive retina picks ups distorted images instead of normal ones. You can get keratoconus in both eyes or only one eye.
Thankfully, this condition is pretty rare, with as much as .15% to .6% of the American population developing keratoconus. This eye disease tends to strike people in their teenage years or well into their early twenties.
This condition can prove problematic in terms of identifying its presence since the disease is one with a gradual progression. Keratoconus will, in some cases, have a rapid progression though. Essentially, the more out of shape one’s cornea is, the faster the eye disease progresses into astigmatism, nearsightedness, or in causing blurry and distorted vision. Light sensitivity may be an issue, just as glare may irritate one’s eyes.
When making regular visits to an eye care professional, the keratoconic individual will end up having new prescriptions every visit to keep pace with the eye changes occurring due to the eye disease. If your eye doctor familiar with the early signs and symptoms of the disease, a prompt diagnosis of keratoconus, if present, is likely.
Some studies indicate that the corneal tissues weakens and, therefore, contributes to the onset of keratoconus. The weakening of the cornea’s tissues may be caused by an enzyme imbalance within the cornea itself, thereby making it more likely to suffer from oxidative damage incited by the action of free radicals. Thus, the cornea becomes weak and bulges out of shape.
Risk factors for the condition include:
- Hereditary risks
- Ultraviolet Rays Exposure
- Poor Fit for Contacts
- Eye Rubbing in Excess
- Eye Irritation – Chronic
Treatments for Keratoconus
Soft Contacts and Eyeglasses: This treatment is ideal for an individual suffering from mild keratoconus. However, this eye disease can and will eventually progress. The thinner the cornea becomes and the more the cornea bulges out of shape, the more aggressive the vision corrective actions will have to become. Eventually, eyeglasses or soft contacts will not offer a solution.
Advanced and/or moderate keratoconus can be treated with the following treatment methods:
Contacts/Gas Permeable: Breathable lenses with a rigid structure may serve to improve vision in a person who has mild to advanced keratoconus. In fact, these lenses are the most common treatment for the eye condition. The rigid lenses allow for the lens to fit the cornea and serve to replace the irregularly shaped cornea with a smooth lens for vision improvement.
The cons associated with GP lenses is that they offer less comfort than their soft counterparts. What’s more, the lens fitting can be timely, especially since you’re a fitting the lens to a keratoconic, irregularly shaped cornea. Several fittings may be required to get the lenses to fit appropriately. This is particularly true if the eye condition progresses rapidly.
Contacts/Piggybacking: Wearing soft and rigid contacts is another treatment for keratoconus. The doubling up of lenses with one soft lens against the eye to ensure greater comfort and the rigid GP lens over the soft lens for dealing with the keratoconic condition.
Contacts/Hybrids: These types of lenses bring the positive attributes of soft lenses and GP lenses into a single set of lenses. Each lens features a gas permeable center, but the outer skirting of the lenses is soft for comfort. The center lens ensures that the wearer gets crisp vision correction. These lenses are available in a variety of shapes so they can readily fit a keratoconic eye, despite its irregularity in shape.
Contacts/Intacs: These contacts are surgically inserted – they are small pieces of plastic placed beneath the surface of your eye within the cornea’s periphery. The lens, therefore, helps the cornea to reshape and lends to improved visual acuity. This option is great for those who can no longer make use of soft, GP, or hybrid lenses to deal with keratoconic conditions.
When compared to BSCVA (best spectacle corrected visual acuity), Intacs improve vision better: This information comes from more than a single study. In fact, visual acuity increase by as much as two entire lines on a visual testing chart. These small, clear implants are not only removable, but if need be, they can be exchanged as well. The procedure is fairly simple, taking all of ten minutes. If the eye condition continues to progress, the Intacs can slow down disease progress, but a corneal transplant may be required in the future.
C3-R: This is a non-invasive, experimental method of treating keratoconus otherwise called corneal collagen cross-linked with riboflavin. The treatment involves using riboflavin containing eye drops and putting them on the cornea. Ultraviolet light then, in turn, activates the drops which lends to connective tissues strengthen (collagen fibers), inside the cornea.
The above-mentioned treatment is demonstrating excellent outcomes. In Germany, a study was conducted which reveals the use of C3-R literally halted the progression of keratoconus when 23 eyes were tested with the treatment. Some patients saw visual acuity improvements and reversal of the keratoconus as well. Researchers are hopeful this treatment may eliminate corneal transplants in patients with advanced keratoconus.
Corneal transplant: This procedure involves taking cornea tissue from a donor eye and suturing it in the place of the existing cornea of the patient. It is a last resort in the treatment of keratoconus because a long recovery follows. This procedure is also known as PKP, PK, or penetrating keratoplasty. Following a successful transplant, contact or eyeglasses are usually still needed for vision correction.