Keratoconus is an eye condition that affects the cornea, leading to a loss of vision. It affects around one in two thousand people and can manifest itself during the early teenage years, getting progressively worse. There are treatments in the early stages, but if it is discovered after progressing into adulthood, corneal transplantation could be the only solution to restore vision.
Throughout this blog, we will explain to you all of the causes, symptoms and treatment options available for anyone suffering from keratoconus.
What is Keratoconus?
As mentioned above, keratoconus is an eye disease that progressively gets worse the longer it goes untreated. It will result in a thinning of the cornea – which is the front surface of the eye. When this happens, the cornea becomes distorted and forms into an unnatural shape.
A healthy cornea sits on the front surface of your eye in a smooth dome shape. Someone suffering from keratoconus eye will have a dome-shaped cornea that bulges outwards more than usual. As a result, blurred vision will ensue, and it is also known to cause extra sensitivity to light and glare.
The early signs of this eye disease are present in children as young as 10 years old. However, it is commonly known to affect anyone up to the age of 25, where it can then progress for 10 years or more. The further it progresses, the harder it is to treat – though various options are available.
What causes Keratoconus?
Unlike many other progressive eye diseases, the causes of keratoconus aren’t obvious. Much research has been done into the condition to figure out what causes this progressive eye lens thinning. One of the latest studies indicates that there is a correlation between individuals suffering from a weakening of the corneal tissue and an imbalance of enzymes in the cornea. It’s believed that this imbalance makes the cornea more likely to suffer damages that weaken and distort its shape.
However, it is also believed that genetic factors are the most common risk factor for keratoconus. Approximately 1 in 10 people with this disease will have a parent that suffers from it, meaning it could be hereditary. Another factor that could increase your chances of getting keratoconus is if you continuously rub your eyes vigorously. Therefore, people suffering from hay fever and other allergies might be more likely to experience corneal thinning due to excessive rubbing when symptoms flare up.
The eye condition keratoconus has a range of symptoms that can present themselves in patients. There are also different stages of keratoconus that can lead to different levels of symptoms. In general, the main signs and symptoms of this eye disease are as follows:
- Blurred vision
- Distorted vision
- Sensitivity to bright light and glare
- Clouding of vision
- Multiple eyeglass prescription changes in a short space of time
If you are suffering from any or all of these problems, there is a high chance you have keratoconus in one of your eyes. However, it’s important to know the different stages of keratoconus to identify where your disease is currently at, making it easier to understand the treatments or symptoms you’re likely to see.
- Stage 1 Keratoconus – This is known as early keratoconus and usually involves a very slight distortion to the cornea. It barely affects your vision and you will likely see no symptoms at this stage.
- Stage 2 Keratoconus – A moderate form of the disease involving a higher degree of distortion in the cornea. Your vision gets worse when you wear your glasses, meaning you’ll need a keratoconus prescription to restore your sight.
- Stage 3 Keratoconus – Advanced keratoconus that has meant your cornea is severely damaged and distorted, resulting in lots of thinning. Your vision has progressively got even worse and is blurred or distorted, and you have more sensitivity to light.
- Stage 4 Keratoconus – In stage 4 you have severe keratoconus which takes the previous symptoms and amplifies them further. You no longer see relief from special prescriptions as your vision is so poor. This is where most experts will recommend keratoconus surgery.
In Stage 1 of keratoconus, treatment can usually be found in the form of new eyeglass prescriptions or contact lenses. Soft contact lenses are also commonly used here, with the aim of correcting corneal distortion and providing a dome-shaped outer lens. In stages 2 and 3, more rigid contact lenses are typically used to provide better vision than glasses.
As the disease progresses into its most severe form, these treatments no longer have the desired effect. Consequently, the following treatments are typically called upon:
- Corneal Cross Linking – There are two forms of this treatment; epithelium-off and epithelium-on. The ‘off’ form removes the outer layer of the cornea (epithelium) to allow a B vitamin to be introduced, activated using UV light. The ‘on’ method keeps the epithelium in place and requires more time for the B vitamin to penetrate the cornea. It has less risk of infections and complications and offers a faster recovery time.
- Intacs – These are clear inserts that are surgically added to the cornea as a way of reshaping the eye for improved vision. This is typically used when any contact lens or glasses treatments no longer work. They can be removed and changed, with surgeries usually lasting around 10 minutes.
- Conductive Keratoplasty – Using topography, this procedure helps to apply radio waves to certain points in the cornea, reshaping the surface into its natural shape, improving vision and reducing symptoms.
- Corneal Transplant – Often viewed as the last resort when nothing else will produce results, corneal transplants will effectively replace your damaged cornea with donor tissue. It can result in months of recovery but an improved vision.
Going back to the earlier stages of keratoconus, there are different types of contact lens treatments that can be tried, including:
- Custom soft contact lenses – These are used in the very early stages to improve blurred vision.
- Gas permeable contact lenses – Used as the disease progresses, they are more rigid and tend to be called upon if soft contact lenses are no longer working. Sometimes, patients with keratoconus can have these lenses placed over soft contact lenses for improved comfort.
- Hybrid contact lenses – Specifically designed for keratoconus, these lenses combine a gas permeable centre with a softer outer layer, providing the best of both worlds.
Keratoconus and Driving
It is possible to still drive when suffering from this progressive eye disease. However, you must meet the minimum legal eyesight requirement wherever you live. This means you will likely need special prescriptions for lenses or glasses to meet these standards. If you still don’t meet the legal limit, surgery might be required to restore your vision.
1) Does keratoconus cause headaches?
Yes, more progressive forms of this disease can cause headaches due to the increased sensitivity to light your eyes will experience. As your vision decreases, you will also suffer from frequent headaches thanks to excessive eye strain. Wearing sunglasses to protect you from bright light – and getting prescription lenses to combat your loss of vision – can help you cope with the headaches.
2) Does keratoconus hurt?
In most cases, keratoconus will not be a painful disease. In extreme instances where complications are present, corneal hydrops can form, which is where part of the cornea actually breaks. This leads to issues with your eye fluid that can cause pain and swelling.
3) Can keratoconus be treated by laser surgery?
No. Laser surgery typically thins the cornea by removing some of its tissue, which will exacerbate the existing problem, leading to more severe symptoms.
4) How do you prevent keratoconus?
It is sometimes impossible to prevent this disease due to its hereditary and genetic nature. However, you can reduce your chances of getting it by protecting your eyes from UV radiation, getting contact lenses that fit properly, treating eye discomfort and avoiding rubbing your eyes.
5) How much do keratoconus lenses cost?
The cost of lenses can vary depending on the provider, but they are known to start at around £15 for the most basic ones, going up to £55 and above for custom soft contact lenses. If you’d like more information on our pricing, please contact a member of our team today.
6) How many people have keratoconus?
It is estimated that around one in every two thousand people will suffer from some form of keratoconus.
Contact Belson Opticians for Keratoconus Eye Test
The best way to treat this condition is by identifying it as early as possible. The longer it progresses undetected, the harder and more expensive it is to treat. Belson Opticians offer eye tests specifically designed to diagnose keratoconus, letting you see if you suffer from this disease and how progressive it might be. From here, we can find the ideal treatments to improve your vision and life.
Contact us today and a member of our team will help you book your keratoconus eye test as soon as possible!