Keratoconus is a degenerative disease of the cornea that is characterized by a general thinning of the corneal tissue, often resulting in the central cornea developing a cone shaped bulge. Scientists have been unable to determine a single, definitive cause for keratoconus, but research leads to a combination of genetic predisposition and environmental factors. The disease typically happens in both eyes and begins in early adolescence or early adulthood and symptoms gradually progress and get worse over the next 10 to 20 years. Symptoms can often mimic other refractive disease and include mild blurriness, distorted vision, eye redness, eye swelling, eye strain, and increased sensitivity to glare or light in the early stages. As the disease progresses, patients often experience more severe distortion in their vision, an increase in astigmatism and nearsightedness with a need to change their glasses prescriptions more often, and the inability to fit contact lenses due to the curvature of their corneas. Glare and light sensitivity can also increase as the cornea thins.
Treatments for keratoconus vary depending on the severity of the disease. Often it can be controlled in the early stages with changes to glasses or contact lens prescriptions. Rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses are often required as the disease progresses. In the most severe cases, scarring of the cornea can occur and a corneal transplant may be indicated to restore vision. One promising procedure, collagen cross-linking, has gained a lot of attention over recent years. This procedure uses drops containing riboflavin, a form of vitamin B12, and a special UV light to strengthen the cornea.
Patients that suffer from keratoconus should refrain from rubbing their eyes, as this can damage the thinning corneal tissue and increase the severity of symptoms from the disease. Patients with a history of keratoconus should have regular eye exams and should be followed routinely by a corneal specialist.