The sad thing about blessings is that most of them get taken for granted.
Take our eyes, for example. Nearly 80 percent of all our impressions are formed through sight. They facilitate the absorption of external stimuli that can be pieced together inside our brain, thus helping us learn new things with every passing day. And if one day, we were deprived of all other senses such as touch or taste, it is our eyesight that can best protect us from danger.
Yet, unfortunately, most of us will experience some form of vision loss at some point in our lives – be it in our youth or in our old age. From cataracts and age-related macular degeneration to night blindness and glaucoma – vision loss manifests itself in the form of many different eye diseases.
Staying well informed about eye health and diseases is the first step in arming ourselves against vision loss, so that we may protect our eyesight. And one of the most debilitating of these diseases is keratoconus.
What Is Keratoconus?
How Does Keratoconus Affect Vision?
Keratoconus is non-inflammatory in nature and doesn’t cause blindness but the change in shape and the thinning of the cornea can result in the cornea losing its transparency. Thus, the disease can impair the ability of the affected eye to focus as well as it should.1 If not treated soon, it can even cause scarring of the cornea which will only make your vision worse.
Keratoconus is progressive in nature and usually affects both eyes. However, the degree of progression in each eye is very often unequal, and it is fairly common for the condition to be more advanced in one eye than in the other.
Keratoconus affects up to one in a thousand people. Usually more common amongst Asians, this disease is mostly diagnosed in teenagers and young people, with the majority of transplant operations being performed on patients between 20-45 years of age.2
What Causes Keratoconus?
Researchers are still not too sure about what really causes keratoconus. However, they believe that genetic factors could play a huge role. The disease has also been linked to Down’s syndrome, connective tissue disorders, and allergic diseases such as eczema and asthma.3 Some doctors have also found that rubbing the eyes too much or using poorly fitting contact lenses may contribute to the cause of keratoconus.
- Change in shape of the cornea: The most common symptom of keratoconus is a bulging cornea – the clear surface in front of the eyeball. Although this isn’t too evident in the initial phases, the cornea can look like it’s almost pushing itself forward from the eye socket as the disease gets progressively worse.
- Loss in quality of vision: Once the cornea starts to change its shape dramatically, it is unable to carry out its function of refracting the light that enters the eye onto the lens. As a result, the lens isn’t able to focus the information it receives properly onto the retina and this causes a significant loss in the quality of one’s vision. Light sensitivity, blurriness, and seeing everything in the form of hazy ghost-like images are common early symptoms that usually appear in the patient’s youth.
There is a wide variety of options available for the treatment of keratoconus. It is recommended to undergo a thorough examination with your concerned ophthalmologist first, as this can help establish which treatment is best for your affected eyes.
- Glasses: Glasses can help to successfully correct myopia and astigmatism that occur in keratoconus. However, this is only during the early stages of the eye disease.
- Contact lenses: Contact lenses are often prescribed by the doctor to help correct the irregular-shaped cornea and force it to stay dome-shaped. Once again, this is only in the early stages of the disease. About 5-10% of keratoconus patients hit a stage when contact lenses are no longer effective and a corneal transplant is recommended.
- Corneal transplants: If left to progress beyond a certain point, patients with keratoconus may need an invasive cornea transplant. However, minimally-invasive treatments can cure keratoconus effectively, provided it is diagnosed early. This can avoid the need of a complete cornea transplant altogether.
- Corneal collagen crosslinking treatment: This is one of the medical treatments for serious cases of keratoconus. The goal of corneal collagen crosslinking is to provide the misshapen cornea a more stable structure by strengthening the weak collagen fibers inside it. This way, it helps stop the future progression of the disease.
Note: It is important to note that while contact lenses certainly provide good vision during the period of the eye disease which would’ve otherwise been hard to achieve, they won’t slow down the rate of formation of the conical cornea, nor will they slow down the rate of progression of keratoconus. When worn, the lenses only temporarily flatten the irregular-shaped epithelium (or skin) of the cornea, thus creating the illusion of stopping the progression of keratoconus. If the disease is allowed to progress, the contacts must be continually updated to keep up with the worsening conditions of the eye while a surgery may be recommended to prevent the disease from causing further impairment to the eye sight.