The cornea is the window of the eye. Light travels through the cornea past the lens to the retina and then the brain to form a visual image. The normal corneal surface is smooth and aspheric i.e. round in the center, flattening towards its outer edges. Light rays passing through it moves in an undistorted manner to the retina to project a clear image to the brain.
In patients with keratoconus the cornea is cone shaped (hence the name keratoconus, derived from the greek word for cornea (‘kerato’) and cone shaped (‘conus’). In patients with keratoconus the cornea is not only cone shaped but the surface is also irregular resulting in a distorted image being projected onto the brain.
Because the cornea is irregular and cone shaped, glasses do not adequately correct the vision in patients with keratoconus since they cannot conform to the shape of the eye. Patients with keratoconus see best with rigid contact lenses since these lenses provide a clear surface in front of the cornea allowing the light rays to be projected clearly to the retina. Hence the vast majority of patients are treated with rigid contact lenses. There are however some excellent new surgical options for patients with keratoconus who cannot tolerate these lenses, these options are discussed under treatments for keratoconus.
DetectionMany patients are initially unaware they have keratoconus and see their eye doctor because of increasing spectacle blur or progressive changes in their prescription. In many instances even a good refraction yields poor vision. Keratoconus is most often diagnosed by a cornea specialist who may see typical findings when examining the patient at the slit-lamp. In early forms of the disease there may be no obvious finding on slit-lamp evaluation and the diagnosis is made by computerized videokeratography only.
Keratoconus may occur in one eye only initially but most commonly affects both eyes with one eye being more severely affected than the other. Both males and females are equally affected and there is no ethnic predilection though in some parts of the world including New Zealand and in certain parts of Finland there is a higher incidence due to genetic factors.
Despite millions of dollars being spent on keratoconus no one truly knows the cause of the disease. There have been many interesting theories but none of them have yet been proven conclusively neither have any of them consistently been reproduced by multiple research groups. One theory suggests eye rubbing causes the progression of keratoconus. The evidence for this is however anecdotal based on several case reports, but there is no reproducible scientific evidence to support it. Others suggest that there is deficient collagen crosslinking caused by free radicals, interesting progress has been made in this area (see below).
For further information please contact our clinic
|New Zealand (North Island) residents with keratoconus may be eligible for a Ministry of Health subsidy towards the fitting and supply of contact lenses. The subsidy is managed between the optometrist and the MOH, please contact us for further information.|
|Collagen is the primary protein constituent of the body's connective tissues. The riboflavin causes new bonds to form across adjacent collagen strands in the stromal layer of the cornea, which recovers and preserves some of the cornea's mechanical strength. The corneal epithelial layer is generally removed in order to increase penetration of the riboflavin into the stroma. (Wikipedia) The procedure helps restore appropriate curvature and structure to the cornea, and makes it possible for most patients who need them to wear rigid contact lenses again.(2)|
|A method for flattening the cornea that is too steep and making a patient more contact lens tolerant is the insertion of INTACS into the cornea. This procedure is good for patients who are contact lens intolerant and who want to avoid a corneal transplant and whose K readings are not in excess of 58 Diopters. It is also useful for individuals with keratoconus who want to improve their present vision with or without contact lenses. This technique involves the insertion of two arc like plastic segments into the middle of the cornea to flatten the cornea. This procedure was pioneered 8 years ago in France, and is routinely being done by many cornea specialists in the New Zealand.|
Patients with very mild disease may initially be corrected with glasses or soft contact lenses, however the vast majority of patients need rigid contact lenses for adequate vision correction.
Many patients find their contact lenses uncomfortable and can only tolerate them for a short period of time. One reason this happens is that the cornea steepens and rubs against the lens causing an abrasion and light sensitivity. Another reason is patients with keratoconus often have very dry eye and as the eye dries out there is no lubricating barrier between the lens and the cornea contributing to the patient being uncomfortable. There are now many ways to treat dry eyes to improve contact lens tolerance. This includes: