Learning that you have keratoconus can be unnerving, but most people living with this cornea disorder do not progress to legal-blindness. While this eye disorder was formerly considered to occur in only one in every 2,000 people, studies based on eye exams to determine suitability for undergoing LASIK surgery revealed it to be far more common (per the National Keratoconus Foundation). Described below is an overview of keratoconus as an eye disorder so that you can understand the usual treatment options, as well as what to expect and how to care for your eyes.
Why Keratoconus Causes Vision Abnormalities
The normally-round cornea is elongated in people with keratoconus, and this abnormal cornea shape usually occurs in both eyes. Consequently, keratoconus-afflicted people typically are nearsighted (myopic) and also have astigmatism. As noted in an article in Clinical Ophthalmology, progressive corneal protrusion and thinning are also features of keratoconus. The result is that people diagnosed with keratoconus almost always need corrective lenses to experience good visual acuity (eyesight).
While nearsightedness means that you have difficulty in seeing objects clearly at a distance, astigmatism causes the object in view to appear distorted. Therefore, eyeglasses or contact lenses that only correct for nearsightedness will not enable a keratoconus-afflicted person to acquire good visual acuity. As you probably are already well-aware, driving a motor vehicle (or performing certain workplace roles) requires good visual acuity to avoid an accident.
Three other problems that people living with keratoconus may experience include:
- Sensitivity to sunlight, the glare of a computer screen, and the light from overhead fluorescent lighting systems;
- A sensation of “dry eyes” that can foster the need to blink the eyes frequently;
- Eye pain in the corneal area and a higher risk for cornea infection.
Caring for Your Eyes if Diagnosed with Keratoconus
Keratoconus-afflicted people are advised to avoid rubbing the eyes. Since eye-rubbing is considered one of the causes of keratoconus, it can also exacerbate symptoms of this disorder (such as corneal scarring). It is also important to avoid exposing your eyes to direct sunlight. Wearing sunglasses on sunny days is one way to accomplish this avoidance. Rigid Gas Permeable (RGP) contact lenses are the most common corrective lenses prescribed for people with keratoconus, as “soft” contact lenses do not correct astigmatism.
If you have corneal abrasions or scarring, you may not be able to wear RGP contact lenses as these rest on the cornea (similar to “soft” contact lenses). In this case, scleral contact lenses – that rest on the “white” of the eye (sclera) rather than the cornea – may be recommended for you.
Typically progressive until around age 40, your vision and other symptoms of keratoconus may worsen over time and then plateau at the onset of middle-age. Meanwhile, some minimally-invasive surgeries have been performed in keratoconus-afflicted people to halt the progressive vision loss and/or reduce eye pain.
Three Surgical Treatments for Keratoconus
The following are the most common surgical treatments for keratoconus:
- Corneal Cross-Linking – minimally-invasive surgery that utilizes ultra-violet light and specialized eye drops to strengthen the collagen fibers in the cornea (in order to halt the progression of corneal weakening associated with corneal scarring and pain).
- Intracorneal Ring Segment Placement – minimally-invasive surgery that involves implanting two small plastic arcs in the cornea (in order to flatten a steep cornea associated with cornea pain).
- Corneal Transplantation – requires a donor cornea from a deceased person, and is performed in keratoconus-afflicted people with severe symptoms.
Consulting with a professional at a Precision Keratoconus Center office can enable you to better understand how to adjust to living with keratoconus and curtail avoidable symptoms.