There are many different conditions that can affect our eyes. One that is fairly common – estimated to affect around 1 in every 2000 people in the U.S. but many people haven’t heard of is keratoconus. Keratoconus is an eye condition that is characterized by an unusual bulging of a part of the eye called the cornea. The cornea is usually a dome-shaped window that covers the front part of the eye. Patients with keratoconus do not have an evenly shaped dome, but instead, their cornea bulges outwards in a cone shape. This interferes with the way that light is refracted when it enters the eye, causing the patient to experience a range of issues with their vision.
Fortunately, eye doctors are able to diagnose keratoconus fairly easily, and there is treatment available that can ensure that the condition doesn’t significantly affect your vision in your day to day life.
It often isn’t clear why some people develop keratoconus and others don’t. However, there are some factors that are believed to contribute to it. For example, some experts have suggested that oxidative stress, which can occur as a result of exposure to elements such as pollution, UV rays and more, can weaken the cornea and make it more likely to bulge. Other studies have suggested that chronic rubbing if the eyes, such as if you suffer from eye allergies or other irritation, could also be a contributing cause. The condition is also more prevalent amongst people of non-Caucasian descent.
The bulge occurs due to the progressive thinning of the cornea, and it develops fairly gradually. If you don’t attend regular eye exams, it may not be detected until it has had a considerable impact on your eyesight.
If you exhibit any of the following symptoms, you could be suffering from keratoconus:
Mildly blurred vision
Slightly distorted vision, meaning that lines that should be straight such as lampposts appear wavy instead
Redness of the eyes
Swelling around the eyes
Increased sensitivity to light
Finding it hard to drive at night due to glare
Finding it hard to wear contact lenses as they may feel uncomfortable and be a poor fit
If you suspect you may have keratoconus, it is important that you arrange an appointment with our eye care team so that you can be assessed. The good news is that keratoconus can be diagnosed through a routine eye examination. Our eye doctor will look at the shape of your cornea and measure the extent of the curve/bulge as part of the diagnostic process. In some instances, it may also be necessary to perform a topography of the cornea. This is a 3D map of the surface of your eye that is created using cutting edge imaging of the cornea.
There are various options for treating keratoconus, but scleral contact lenses are by far one of the most effective and successful. Scleral contact lenses are specialty contact lenses that are designed specifically for patients with corneal abnormalities such as keratoconus. Unlike conventional contact lenses which make contact with the entire surface of the eye, scleral contact lenses only make contact with the white part of the eye (called the sclera) and vault over the corneal surface, leaving a gap beneath which can comfortably accommodate the bulge.
There are several different sizes of scleral contact lenses available, meaning that there is certainly a variety that will meet your needs. Their larger diameter means that they remain centered and stable on your eyes and prevents them from slipping out easily. The space between the surface of the eyes and the back of the lens also acts as a reservoir for tear film, keeping moisture on the eyes and preventing them from drying out.
If scleral lenses prove unsuccessful, there are several other treatment options available including:
Intacs: these are small, curved devices that are surgically implanted into your cornea to flatten it and improve your vision.
Collagen cross-linking: this is when a special UV light is used alongside eye drops to strengthen your cornea so that it doesn’t budge any further.
Surgical corneal transplant: this is when your natural cornea is removed and replaced with healthy corneal tissue from a donor.
If you would like more information about keratoconus, or you are concerned that you may have this condition, don’t hesitate to get in touch with our expert team of eye care specialists in El Paso, TX who would be delighted to help.