What You Need to Know
Keratoconus (say ker-ah-tah-CONE-us) is a medical term that simply means the cornea of your eye starts to thin and then bulges out like a cone. The cornea is clear, normally dome shaped tissue that forms a protective ‘window’ over the front of your eye and which allows light to pass through to the interior of your eye. Naturally, if the cornea becomes misshapen and starts to bulge, the light which travels through it becomes bent and you will start to see things out of focus.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Keratoconus is a progressive disease, meaning it can get worse over time. The disease can affect both of your eyes, and can give different symptoms in each eye. Early stage symptoms include: mild blurring of your vision or slightly distorted vision, in which straight lines can look bent or wavy. Early stage disease can also cause your eyes to be sensitive to light and to glare and you may have eye redness or swelling.
As the disease gets worse, your vision will become even more distorted and blurry, nearsightedness or astigmatism (problems focusing) may worsen, and due to the changing shape of the cornea, your contacts may become so uncomfortable you cannot wear them.
Usually, keratoconus takes several years (sometimes decades) to go from mild to severe, but in some people it can progress very quickly.
WHO IS AT RISK?
Although researchers think that keratoconus is genetic and passed down through families, no one is really sure why people have it. About one person in ten who has keratoconus also has a parent who suffers from the condition as well.
Most often, keratoconus begins when patients are in their late teens to early twenties, with their symptoms slowly getting worse over about ten to twenty years.
How Is Keratoconus Treated?
If your eye physician suspects you may have keratoconus, he will thoroughly examine your cornea and measure its curve. Sometimes a special map of the corneal surface is made, using a special computer, to give your eye physician more information.
The way your keratoconus is treated will depend on your symptoms and the stage of the disease. In mild, early stage cases, your vision can be corrected with glasses, although a little later on, you may have to wear special hard contact lenses to help you focus.
Your eye physician also has several other ways to treat keratoconus, depending on your particular symptoms and stage of disease. Your physician may choose to surgically insert a small curved device called an intac into your cornea to help flatten it out. Another treatment is called collagen cross linking, using a special UV light and eye drops, to help strengthen and flatten the cornea.
If your disease is severe, your eye physician may recommend you consider undergoing a corneal transplant, where your diseased cornea is surgically removed and replaced with a donor cornea.
It’s important to remember at whatever stage your keratoconus is, not to rub your eye! In keratoconus, your cornea is thin, and rubbing your eyes can further damage the tissue and make your symptoms even worse. If you have allergies that cause your eyes to itch, please ask one of our eye physicians to speak with you about medication to get your allergies under control.