Keratoconus is a condition in which a patient’s cornea gets progressively thinner, causing it to bulge outward in a cone-like shape. This irregularity causes incoming light to refract improperly to the retina, which means that patients usually experience vision distortion in the form of astigmatism and nearsightedness.
While keratoconus used to be a terrible diagnosis because treatments were limited, advancements have made it so that most patients do not have to worry about major consequences. Here, the doctors at St. Michael’s Eye & Laser Institute explain the evolution of keratoconus treatments.
Early Keratoconus Treatments
Keratoconus was first diagnosed over 100 years ago, but doctors at the time had no clue how to prevent or cure the condition. For many decades, most keratoconus treatments involved providing lenses to improve the patient’s quality of vision, even if only moderately. The first option was traditional contact lenses to correct myopia. However, once the eyes bulged too significantly to fit normal contact lenses, scleral lenses were necessary. These are special RGP (rigid gas permeable) lenses that are wider than most contact lenses so that they can sit on the sclera (the white part of the eye) instead of the cornea.
In many cases, keratoconus would progress to the point where no type of lens could improve the vision. Hence, the only practical solution was keratoplasty (AKA a cornea transplant). This surgery uses donor tissue from another cornea to replace the patient’s cornea. It takes a long time to recover from corneal transplant, so it is not recommended unless absolutely necessary.
How Treatments Have Evolved
Fortunately, in the past 20 or so years, keratoconus treatment has improved dramatically. The most useful and impressive treatment is corneal cross-linking. This is a non-invasive treatment where an eye doctor applies medicated eyedrops with riboflavin (better known as vitamin B2) and then shines an ultraviolet light on the eye to help it build collagen fibers. While corneal cross-linking does not reverse keratoconus, it is highly successful at slowing and often stopping the progression of keratoconus, which makes it a great treatment when keratoconus is diagnosed early.
Another option is a corneal implant known as Intacs. This is a transparent arc that helps to flatten and restore a normal shape to a bulging eye. Doctors often suggest combining corneal cross-linking with Intacs for optimal results.
While corneal transplant is still an option for patients whose keratoconus is caught late and progresses too far, it can usually be avoided these days with help from these other newer treatments.
Speak to Our Keratoconus Experts
The ophthalmologists at St. Michael’s Eye & Laser Institute are proud to offer the latest keratoconus treatments that provide our patients with quality sight throughout their lives. If you have been diagnosed with keratoconus or are concerned that you may have it, please schedule an appointment by calling (727) 585-2200.