Do Cataracts Worsen Keratoconus?

Vision loss is associated with keratoconus, and blurry vision is only one of the possible early signs of this cornea disorder. Sensitivity to light is another sign (as well as worsening distance vision over time). According to the National Keratoconus Foundation, cataracts actually can cause some visual field disturbances similar to keratoconus.

If you have been diagnosed with keratoconus as a young adult, getting treatment as early as possible is important to prevent serious vision loss by 40 years of age. Meanwhile, cataracts are more likely to begin in middle-age (and the American Academy of Ophthalmology reports that at least 24.4 million adults in the US over age 40 have cataracts). The Precision Keratoconus Center – with sites in many states across the US – specializes in the treatment of keratoconus.

Difference Between Keratoconus and Cataracts

While the lens of the eye is affected in cataracts, the cornea of the eye typically thins and/or bulges in keratoconus. Protein in the lens may clump, and this is what causes cloudy vision in people with cataracts (per the National Eye Institute). Surgical removal of the lens is the usual treatment for a cataract causing vision loss. In contrast, keratoconus – which most often begins in adolescence or young adulthood and also causes vision loss – occurs because of an abnormally-shaped cornea. 

The cornea covers the very front part of the eye, and is responsible for nearly 75 percent of the eye’s focusing ability. Responsible for 25-35 percent of the eye’s focusing ability, the lens is located behind the iris (ring-shaped membrane inside the eye) and the pupil. Cataracts form on the lens, so can have a negative impact on vision even when the cornea is normal.

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Five Risk Factors for Cataracts

The following are five of the risk factors for cataracts described on the Mayo Clinic website:

  • Diabetes;
  • Excessive eye exposure to sunlight;
  • Smoking;
  • Prolonged use of corticosteroid medications;
  • Obesity

How is Keratoconus Usually Diagnosed?

An optometrist will most often first review a patient’s medical and family history (and a family history of keratoconus can alert the optometrist to the potential for this disorder to develop in the specific patient). The keratoconus-afflicted patient’s optometrist can diagnose keratoconus using the tools commonly utilized during a routine eye exam. While testing eye refraction is the primary way that optometrists determine if a patient has keratoconus, the optometrist (or ophthalmologist) may also perform a sit-lamp exam or keratometry.

National Population Statistics for Keratoconus

You are more likely to have keratoconus if a parent has this disorder, but it also occurs in people with no family history of this disorder. Around one in every 2,000 people in the US has keratoconus. Between 5-15 percent of all people with Down’s Syndrome have keratoconus, and keratoconus is also more common in Asian populations than other ethnic groups (according to the website of Boston Children’s Hospital).

You can have both keratoconus and cataracts, and this can cause your overall vision to decrease for different reasons. However, both of these eye disorders can be treated – albeit with different treatment approaches. Visiting the nearest site of the Precision Keratoconus Center to your place of residence may be a good step in deciding upon an action plan if you have been diagnosed with keratoconus.

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