It might surprise you to learn that some conditions of the eye may be visible to others at a glance. Keratoconus is one such condition, though the early stages may be difficult to observe without the aid of a professional. Keratoconus is an uncommon condition in which the normally dome-like cornea develops into a cone-like bulge. In order to properly see, light must enter the cornea where it is then focused and turned into images in the brain. Keratoconus distorts one’s vision, making it difficult to engage in activities such as driving, reading or typing on a computer.
Keratoconus usually affects both eyes and symptoms begin in individuals who are in their late teens and early 20’s. Common symptoms include mild blurry vision, increased sensitivity to light, glare, mild eye irritation and the slight distortion of images. Symptoms typically progress slowly over the course of 10 to 20 years then abruptly stop. As the condition progresses, symptoms may include increased blur or image distortion, increased nearsightedness or astigmatism, frequent change of prescription eyeglasses or an inability to wear regular contact lenses due to the increased cone-like shape of the cornea.
The cause of keratoconus is unknown, though some researchers theorize that genetics may play a role in the development of the condition. 10% of individuals with keratoconus have a family member who also has the condition.
Keratoconus can be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist during a routine eye exam. A computerized mapping of the cornea may be used to diagnose subtle cases. If a patient is found to have keratoconus, early stages of the condition might be corrected with eyeglasses. As the condition progresses over time, rigid contact lenses may be necessary so that light is evenly refracted in the eye. It is important that patients do not rub their eyes, as this may aggravate the thin layer of corneal tissue and make symptoms worse. There are other treatments available based on the severity of symptoms and the stage of the condition.
In 10 to 20% of patients, a corneal transplant from a donor may be recommended when good vision is no longer possible with other treatments.
To learn more about Keratoconus, or to find out if you need treatment, schedule an eye exam with your ophthalmologist. Routine eye exams are critical to health of your vision.