Finding out that you have a degenerative disease like keratoconus is, understandably, a source of anxiety for many people. But don’t lose hope.
Here are five questions you can ask your doctor that will help you better understand your condition and find solutions to meet your individual needs. As they say, knowledge is power and there are plenty of new options for individuals with keratoconus.
1. How Will Keratoconus Affect My Vision?
Keratoconus is a degenerative eye disease that causes the cornea, which is normally dome-shaped, to thin and bulge. Because the cornea is responsible for refracting most of the light that comes into the eye, the cone-like irregular shape of an eye with keratoconus can result in significant visual impairment.
Various degrees of corneal irregularity are possible in people with keratoconus. In its earliest stages, the condition causes slight blurring and distortion of vision as well as increased sensitivity to glare and light. As the disease progresses, simple tasks like driving, watching TV or reading a book can be difficult.
2. What Are My Options?
If you have keratoconus, you may wonder what your doctor can do to improve your vision and lifestyle. Possible options include:
- Soft contact lenses
- Gas permeable contact lenses
- Hybrid contact lenses
- Scleral and semi-scleral contact lenses
- Conductive keratoplasty
- Corneal transplant
- Corneal crosslinking
The severity of disease will largely determine which of these options are most suitable for you. Eyeglasses or soft contact lenses, for instance, are generally suitable only in the earliest stages of disease, when keratoconus is very mild. At a certain point in the disease’s progression, if your cornea gets too thin, soft contact lenses won’t be able to provide sharp vision, and a custom designed “hard” or rigid gas permeable (GP) lens may be needed.
GP lenses help mask the irregularity of your corneal surface, but are usually less comfortable than a soft contact lens and sometimes pop out and trap dirt. Scleral lenses are a type of GP lenses. They may stay put better, but the large size may be intimidating.
A third option, called hybrid contact lenses, incorporate a GP material in the center of the lens, where you need it for vision, with a soft lens material along the outer portion of the contact lens, making it more comfortable and secure on the eye. Results from a post-market research survey showed that 82% of patients wearing UltraHealth hybrid lenses experienced vision “better” than their previous lens type, and were “happy” or “very happy” with the visual outcome. Hybrid lenses for keratoconus include UltraHealth, ClearKone and SynergEyes KC.
Surgical options for keratoconus include Intacs, intracorneal rings, which are sometimes used to improve contact lens fit, as well as conductive keratoplasty and corneal transplant, a procedure that is reserved for the most severe cases.
In April of 2016, a new therapeutic treatment for progressive keratoconus was approved by the FDA called corneal-crosslinking. During the treatment, riboflavin drops saturate the cornea and are activated by ultraviolet light. The treatment creates new collagen cross-links that result in a shortening and thickening of the collagen fibrils leading to a stiffening of the cornea. The purpose of the treatment is to slow the progression of keratoconus and prevent a further deterioration of vision.
Here's a listing of ophthalmologists who are familiar with corneal cross-linking, the recently FDA approved treatment for progressive keratoconus.
3. Will My Keratoconus Get Worse?
Unfortunately, there is no way to predict how your keratoconus will progress. Although it has been diagnosed in people in their forties and fifties, keratoconus most often appears in your late teens and early twenties. In most people, it develops in one eye first and then later in the other eye. Usually, the disease will progress for 10-20 years and then slow down.
During keratoconus progression, the cornea will bulge more, leading to further vision distortion. These changes in corneal shape can happen quickly or may occur over several years. In a rare number of people, the cornea can suddenly swell significantly, causing a tiny crack and noticeable vision loss. This can go on for weeks or even months and can’t be stopped. However, your doctor can prescribe eye drops to offer you some relief.
4. Is There Anything I Can Do to Prevent My Children From Getting Keratoconus?
Keratoconus occurs in roughly one out of every 2,000 people. No significant geographical, gender, ethnic, or social pattern has been established. That being said, keratoconus often affects more than one member of the same family. But just because you have it, doesn’t mean your kids will get it too. Current research indicates that there is less than a one in ten chance that a blood relative of a keratoconic patient will have keratoconus.
Since the exact cause of keratoconus is not known, it’s hard to say with certainty what precautions should be taken by children whose parents have the disease. However, since there is a genetic link, it is wise to have your child’s eyes checked for keratoconus starting at age 10.
Keratoconus may also be associated with overexposure to ultraviolet rays from the sun, excessive eye rubbing, a history of poorly fit contact lenses and chronic eye irritation. As such, protect your children as best you can against these potential risk factors.
5. What Symptoms Are An Indication That I Should Call the Doctor’s Office?
Proper contact lens care is very important when you have keratoconus. You don’t want to impose any additional risk, so follow your doctor’s instructions each and every day. In the unlikely event that you experience any of the following symptoms, call your doctor right away:
- Pain or excessive irritation
- Burning, redness, discharge, or extreme tearing
- Inability to keep the eyes open
- Excessive haze, fog, or streaks around lights
- Sensitivity to light
- White spots on the cornea
About SynergEyes, Inc.
SynergEyes is the only advanced-technology, high-performance and OD-led contact lens company focused exclusively on the leading independent eye care professionals. SynergEyes manufactures hybrid contact lenses for patients with astigmatism, presbyopia and irregular cornea conditions such as keratoconus. The company provides over 10,000 eye care professionals products including Duette® and UltraHealth®, that deliver exceptional vision to their patients across the globe. Visit SynergEyes.com for more information.