Keratoconus – Causes, Symptoms and Treatments

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The word “Keratoconus” comes from the Greek ‘kerato’, which means horn or cornea, and ‘kimonos, which means cone. Keratoconus is an eye disease in which the cornea, which is naturally round in shape, degenerates and bulges into a pointed, cone shape. Because of this altered shape, the light entering the eye gets deflected, leading to blurred, distorted vision.

Keratoconus and Astigmatism - Washington, DC

Symptoms of Keratoconus

In most cases, Keratoconus occurs gradually over time, usually occurring after the mid-20s. Because of its slow development rate, detection of this eye disease becomes quite difficult. In this disease, the shape of the eye disintegrates from the natural round shape, which causes gradual loss of near field vision along with irregular astigmatism. Light sensitivity may also occur in many cases, though the most common symptom is nearsightedness and distorted vision.

If you already use glasses, you may find your eye power changing rapidly – increasing or decreasing every time you visit the optometrist for a regular eye check-up. However, in most cases, these changes are quite subtle and an untrained ophthalmologist might not be able to detect the early symptoms of Keratoconus.

Causes of Keratoconus

Earlier, it was thought that this eye disease occurs due to injuries or other external factors. However, newer research has shown that one of the primary causes of Keratoconus is an imbalance of enzymes within the cornea. Because of this imbalance, the cornea may get damaged from free radicals – a compound that is present in the air. This damage can cause the cornea to get distorted and bulge out, leading to a conical shape.

Most cases of this eye disease are genetic in nature. If your family has a history of this disease, chances are, you may have it too. Other less prominent causes include overexposure to the sun, rubbing eyes excessively due to chronic eye irritation, or poorly fitted contact lenses.

Treatment of Keratoconus

Keratoconus can be difficult to treat, especially in more advanced stages. In the early stages, it can be cured by wearing soft lenses. However, in more advanced stages, such measures are inadequate and a patient might be required to wear rigid gas permeable lenses (RGP lenses). Fitting these lenses can be quite difficult and cause a great deal of discomfort to the eyes. Many times, eye care practitioners bypass this difficulty by “piggybacking” an RGP lens over a soft contact lens placed over the eye. The RGP lens fits over the cornea and smoothens it out, erasing any problems created by the bulging shape.

It is best to consult a trained eye doctor regarding treatment for Keratoconus. Depending on the extent of the disease, your ophthalmologist may prescribe different treatment measures, ranging from soft lenses to RGP and hybrid lenses. In almost all cases, Keratoconus is curable and your eyesight will not suffer in the long term.