If you have Keratoconus – a condition where your cornea thins and gradually bulges outward into a cone shape – there are a number of treatments available. Our eye doctors have treated keratoconus for over 15 years making Village Eyecare one of the largest keratoconus clinics in Chicago. We are dedicated to providing our patients with the best care in the area, and invite you to visit one of our four offices for more information about the services that are available.
Keratoconus: A Progressive Eye Disease
Like many other eye diseases, keratoconus is progressive. Over time, the cornea thins and causes the shape of the eye to change. This progressive thinning of the cornea impacts the way light can move through the eye. As a result, many people experience double vision, blurry vision, light sensitivity, astigmatism, and nearsightedness when they have keratoconus.
As the eye disease continues to progress, the cornea can become scarred and damaged. This scarring leads to additional vision problems, making it difficult to see. Severe scarring can sometimes be visible as a circle of scar tissue within the cornea. The main characteristics of keratoconus include a thinning cornea, structural changes in the eye that cause bulging, and eventually scarring develops.
If you suspect that you have this eye disease, it is important that you schedule an appointment with an experienced eye doctor as soon as possible. Timely keratoconus treatment is essential to protect your vision and reduce the long-term damage to the eye.
At Village Eyecare, our team provides the diagnostic services that you need. We can identify potential symptoms and signs of many eye diseases, including keratoconus. We also provide the ongoing treatments that are needed to control the symptoms and minimize the long-term damage to the eye. If you have an eye disease, then it is critical that you work with an experienced team to minimize the long-term damage to your vision. Talk to us here at Village Eyecare for more information about the ways that we can help.
Watch for These Keratoconus Symptoms
How can you tell if the shape of your cornea is changing? Most patients don’t notice an immediate difference in their vision, especially when the symptoms are in the early stages. In the beginning, people often experience a minor blurring, so they schedule an eye appointment for corrective lenses. These glasses or contacts can be used to improve reading or driving.
In the early stages, the symptoms of keratoconus are very similar to other types of refractive eye problems. But, the disease will progress and could lead to rapid deterioration of vision at times.
As the symptoms worsen, people often notice changes in their night vision and long-distance clarity. Some people notice that the symptoms aren’t the same in both eyes. Other symptoms include sensitivity to bright lights, straining or discomfort due to squinting, swelling in the eye, or itching. In most cases, people don’t experience pain as a symptom of keratoconus.
Severe Keratoconus Symptoms as the Disease Progresses
When keratoconus progresses, then severe symptoms can be recognized in the vision. For example, the person might look at one object and see multiple images. This phenomenon can make it hard to see at night because a single light could be multiplied to make it look like there are a number of lights.
This symptom is known as “ghost images,” where many images are seen, and they are spread in a random pattern. Often, the pattern remains constant from one day to the next, although it can morph over time. The images that are seen can sometimes pulse to match the beat of the heart.
Other severe symptoms include flares or streaks around lights. Not only is the vision impacted by the shape of the cornea, but it can also be changed by the scar tissue that starts to build up over time. The cone-shaped cornea deformation changes the way the light filters into the eye. At the same time, the scar tissue can block the vision as well.
Some people find that their symptoms get worse when they are in dim or dark environments. The low light conditions cause the pupil to dilate, which in turn exposes a larger portion of the damaged cornea.
Risk Factors for Keratoconus
Are you at risk for this eye disease? The exact cause of keratoconus is unknown. But, researchers have found factors that might increase the risk of a keratoconus diagnosis. These risk factors include:
– Genetics: Many people with keratoconus have a family history of the eye condition. If you have family members with this disease, then it is important that you share this information with your eye doctor during your exam. The genetic link of keratoconus isn’t defined at this point, but researchers are continuing to look for a connection that will shed insight on the development and risk factors of the disease.
– Environmental: Your environmental situation could increase the risk of keratoconus. These factors might be compounds that cause eye allergy symptoms or an increased rubbing of the eyes.
– Other Diagnosis: A link has been found between keratoconus and other atopic diseases. People who have been diagnosed with allergies, asthma and eczema seem to have a higher risk for keratoconus. It is common for the person to experience all of these diseases. Additionally, connections have been found with other health problems such as Marfan syndrome, Down syndrome, and Alport syndrome.
– Ethnicity: It has been found that the risk of keratoconus is higher in certain ethnic groups, such as people that come from an Asian descent.
Regular eye exams are important to detect early signs of all types of eye diseases. If you have a higher risk due to any of the factors listed above, then it is important that you discuss your situation with your eye doctor. Knowing these risk factors is important so that we can cater your eye care to match your needs.
Even if you don’t have a high risk for keratoconus, you should still maintain regular exams. These appointments enable our team to assess your vision and identify potential treatments and options to maximize your vision. Anyone can be diagnosed with an eye disease, regardless of the risk factors. So, we use these checkups as an opportunity to assess your eye health and catch potential problems in the early stages.
Early Stage Keratoconus Treatment
Keratoconus is typically treated with eyeglasses during the disease’s early stage. However, most patients with keratoconus typically see better with one of the specialized contact lenses available. Scleral Lenses, Synergeyes Lenses, and Rigid Gas Permeable Lenses are all excellent keratoconus treatment options for moderate to severe keratoconus that generally deliver better vision than glasses or soft contact lenses. As the shape of your cornea changes over time, these lenses typically need to be updated with a new prescription on an annual basis.
These special contact lenses are only available from an eye doctor with keratoconus training. Measurements of the eyes can be used to identify the best type of lens to help manage the disease and improve your vision.
For most people, their cornea will become stable after a few years, decreasing the likelihood of severe vision problems or the need for further keratoconus treatment.
In more severe cases, however, surgery may be required. This surgery often involves a corneal transplant that usually improves vision immediately after the surgery is complete.
Regardless of the progression of keratoconus, it is important that you avoid rubbing your eyes. Even early stages of keratoconus can be worsened if you rub your eyes frequently. This motion can add more damage to the thin corneal tissue and speed up the progression of vision loss. If you don’t want to make your symptoms worse, then you need to avoid eye rubbing motions. For patients who experience itchy eyes due to allergies, it can be beneficial to use allergy medication to reduce the likelihood that the eyes will be rubbed due to itching.
When you are visiting a Chicago optometrist, what techniques can be used to diagnose keratoconus? The exam will usually start with the use of an eye chart, such as the standard Snellen chart to measure visual acuity. These charts use a series of progressively smaller signs or letters to measure how well a person can see.
During the exam, the doctor might use a keratometer, which can measure the corneal curvature. This measurement is important to identify the possibility of astigmatism, which can be an indication of keratoconus.
Another tool can be used to complete a retinoscopy. This diagnostic technique focuses a light beam into the patient’s eye to see the reflex or reflection as the light moves back and forth. If it is suspected that you have keratoconus, then the eye doctor can use a slit lamp examination for a closer look at the cornea.
A keratoscope is a handheld tool that can offer a noninvasive way of inspecting the surface of the cornea. This tool projects a pattern of light rings on the cornea to show the shape. Then, a definitive diagnosis can be obtained using corneal topography, which is a similar technique with an automated instrument. A topographical map can be generated that shows the distortions or scarring that have occurred on the cornea.
Corneal topography is helpful for measuring the progression of the disease. This snapshot can be compared with measurements in the future, helping the optometrist see the benchmark points and the rate of the deformation to the corneal shape. One of the benefits of this technique is seeing how the eyes are changing, even when other symptoms aren’t yet present.
In addition to the changing shape of the cornea, several other indications might be present in some patients:
– Fleischer Ring: There is a 50% chance that a person with keratoconus will have a Fleischer ring, which is a pigmentation change in the color of the eyes. Usually, the pigment shows a ring that is olive-green or yellow-brown, caused by iron oxide hemosiderin deposits. Often, a filter needs to be used to identify these color changes.
– Vogt’s Striae: As the cornea stretches and thins, fine lines can become visible during the examination. If temporary pressure is applied to the eye, then these lines usually disappear.
– Munson’s Sign: If the patient looks downward, then the shape of the cone might cause an indentation in the lower eyelid. This symptom might be present in severe cases of keratoconus. Usually, other symptoms are present before this sign is visible, so it usually isn’t used for diagnostic purposes.
Is There a Cure for Keratoconus?
Unfortunately, there isn’t a way that keratoconus damage can be reversed. Once the cornea starts to change shape, the treatments are focused on slowing the progress and reducing symptoms. For example, wearing scleral lenses can be beneficial for vision correction. These lenses are also important to help you maintain current vision and avoid more problems in the future. But, wearing scleral lenses isn’t a cure that will reverse the damage that has been done.
Even though researchers are still looking for a cure for keratoconus, these treatments have been proven to help with comfort and symptom management. You can work with your optometry team to find the right solutions, allowing you to maintain regular daily activities without worrying about your vision. These options offer an effective way for you to see the details of your day while reducing the likelihood that you will need an invasive treatment in the future.
For some patients, the disease might progress to the point where a corneal transplant is needed. This surgery is common in the United States, and many people have experienced great results. As long as you are working with an experienced optometry team, there is nothing to worry about. These regular exams and ongoing treatment options will offer an effective way to protect your eyes so that you can avoid common problems in the future.
Choosing the Right Treatment for Your Eyes
After a thorough examination of your cornea with the latest diagnostic equipment available, your doctor at Village Eyecare will recommend the treatment that’s right for you. Options may include the insertion of small plastic inserts, called Intacs, corneal cross-linking, or even a full cornea transplant, called a Keratoplasty.
Treatment options vary depending on the symptoms that you are experiencing. You might start using one treatment option, and then change to a different method later as the symptoms progress. Here is an overview of some of the common treatments that might be used for keratoconus:
– Vision Correction Lenses: In the early stages of keratoconus, glasses or common contact lenses can be sufficient to correct vision due to mild astigmatism. But, this treatment only works for a time. As the disease progresses, basic contacts and glasses won’t be enough to correct the visual problems. The next step is to move to rigid contact lenses that improve the vision but don’t stop the progression of keratoconus.
– Scleral Lenses: This unique type of contact lens offers a better solution for people who have irregular keratoconus or advanced stages of this eye disease. The lenses are designed to be bigger than standard contacts. So, they cover a larger portion of the eye surface. This size of the lens is helpful to improve the stability of the eye. Plus, people with limited dexterity find that these lenses are easier to handle compared to basic contacts.
– Surgery: Eventually, some people might need corneal surgery to correct the problem. If vision correction isn’t possible using scleral lenses anymore, then surgery might be recommended. Another common need for surgery is because the contact lenses have resulted in scarring damage on the eyes. A corneal transplant is needed in between 11% and 27% of patients with keratoconus. This surgery usually requires sedation for the outpatient procedure. Usually, the critical healing time takes about four to six weeks. But, total healing time for visual stabilization won’t happen for about year after the surgery. Most corneal transplants offer the long-term visual results that are desired.
Prognosis for Patients with Keratoconus
It can be disappointing to be diagnosed with an eye condition. But, there is no reason to feel hopeless when you are working with an experienced optometry team. Modern technology has transformed the diagnostic and treatment options that are available, helping people with all types of eye conditions. So, the best thing that you can do is talk to an experienced optometrist and stay consistent with the
recommended treatment options that are available.
Keratoconus usually starts in the late teenage years or the early twenties, which is earlier compared to other types of progressive eye conditions. But, the disease can be present at any age. It is rare for keratoconus to start later in adulthood, although most people start showing symptoms earlier in life.
The age of diagnosis could be an indication of the severity of the progression of the disease. For example, if someone is diagnosed at a young age, then there is a higher likelihood that they will have severe symptoms later in life.
It is common for the patient’s vision to fluctuate over time, resulting in the need to switch lenses to accommodate these changes. On the other hand, some patients can remain stable for years, without the need to make adjustments due to rapidly changing vision. In most situations, keratoconus progresses for 10 to 20 years, and then the progression ceases. But, the symptoms and progression can change for every person. So, it is important to maintain regular visits with your eye doctor for the best results.
Schedule an Appointment to Learn More
Is your vision at risk because of keratoconus? An experienced eye doctor can perform a thorough examination to look for signs that you might have this eye disease. Regular eye exams are more than checking to see if you need a change in prescription. These appointments are important even for people who don’t use vision correction lenses. Regular eye exams provide an opportunity to check on the health of the eyes so that early stages of eye disease can be diagnosed.
Early diagnosis is the best way to sow the progress of any type of disease. When you know that the disease is present, then you can work with an experienced medical team to proactively treat the condition.
Monitoring the progression of Keratoconus with regular checkups is important. Your eye care professional will work with you to ensure you receive the right treatment for your condition, giving you the best vision possible.