Keratoconus isn’t a well-known eye condition, mainly because it isn’t as common as many other eye diseases. Nevertheless, it is significantly debilitating and can have a very real and permanent effect on patient vision without prompt diagnosis and treatment.
Keratoconus is a disease that occurs when the cornea, which is the transparent cover over the front part of the eye, becomes much thinner and develops a cone-like bulge. The cornea is responsible for refracting light when it enters our eyes so that it hits the retina at the back of each eye. The retina then converts the light into message signals sent to our brain which tell us what we can see. When the cornea is affected by keratoconus, its unusual shape affects the way that light is refracted, causing our vision to be distorted.
It’s not always known why some people develop keratoconus and others don’t, but it’s thought to be caused by a weakness in the collagen fibers that usually maintain the even domed shape of the cornea. As these weaken, the cornea isn’t held in such as rigid shape and starts to bulge. Studies have found that keratoconus is more likely to affect people who suffer from a trauma to the eyes or eye allergies.
Although keratoconus isn’t a common condition, it helps to be aware of the signs and symptoms associated with it. While keratoconus normally starts to develop in adolescence when we experience a period of rapid growth, it can also occur at other times. Some of the most common signs of keratoconus include:
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
Vision that gets progressively worse
Some people find that their symptoms develop extremely slowly and gradually, while others will start to experience symptoms suddenly and the condition will progress quickly. It’s possible to have symptoms affecting just one eye or both and the severity of symptoms may vary between the eyes too.
Most patients will not realize that they are suffering from keratoconus until they have it picked up at one of their regular comprehensive eye exams. Once it is diagnosed, your eye doctor will talk to you about potential treatments for your condition. Which you will be offered will depend on the severity with which your eyes are affected. Nevertheless, the aim of treatment is to slow or halt the progression of the bulging and improve your vision.
Soft Contact Lenses: Usually, the first course of action for treating keratoconus, soft contact lenses are a popular and effective way of improving the vision of patients with this eye disease. Slightly larger than conventional contact lenses, they remain stable on the surface of the eyes which helps maintain stable, clear vision and their placement also places gentle pressure onto the cornea to hold it in a more regular shape.
Gas Permeable Contact Lenses: As their name suggests, these lenses are made from a material that enables oxygen to pass through them and reach the surface of the eyes. This helps keep the eyes hydrated and comfortable. They are also more rigid than soft contact lenses, and while this means that it can take time to get used to wearing them as they aren’t as immediately comfortable as soft lenses, they do hold their shape better and provide better control over the bulging of the cornea.
Scleral Contact Lenses: Known as specialty contact lenses, scleral lenses have a slightly different design to conventional lenses. They don’t make full contact with the surface of the eye but instead vault over the cornea with a gap underneath between the back of the lens and the front of the eye. 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 on your eyes and ensures clear vision.
Surgery: Surgery is usually the last resort, but if other solutions don’t provide enough improvement in your vision it may be the most viable course of action. There are several surgical options, including crosslinking, which is a procedure to replace and strengthen the fibers in your cornea to move it back into a regular shape and eliminate the bulge. If all else fails, you may be recommended to have a corneal transplant, which is where your cornea is removed and replaced with an artificial lens.
Learn more about symptoms & treating keratoconus, contact Sacramento Eye Consultants in Sacramento or Lincoln, CA at (916) 915-0300.