Keratoconus happens when the cornea (the round, clear front part of the eye) starts to weaken and thin at its centre, causing it to become irregular (or coned) in shape. Eventually this prevents the eye from focusing properly, which causes poor vision.
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Keratoconus is fairly uncommon and typically presents in younger people from teens to early twenties. This condition can be detected during a routine eye test, so it’s important to yours tested regularly.
Symptoms of keratoconus
Keratoconus often affects both eyes, and the symptoms can differ from person to person. In its early stages, keratoconus symptoms can include:
- Mild blurring or vision
- Slightly distorted vision, with some parts clear and some parts blurry
- Increased sensitivity to light and glare
In a small number of cases, keratoconus continues to progress. Symptoms include:
- Very blurry and distorted vision
- Eye pain
- Increased near-sightedness or astigmatism
- Not being able to wear contact lenses, as they no longer fit properly
Keratoconus typically develops over a few years, but occasionally, it can progress quickly over several months. If you have any concerns about your eye health, you should see your optometrist.
Causes of keratoconus
Keratoconus is a complex condition and its cause is not yet understood. Although it has been thought that certain factors can play a significant role. These include:
- Family members who have the condition
- Underlying allergies
- Conditions that cause excessive eye rubbing – which could weaken the cornea
Your optometrist will review your medical history and carry out an eye exam. If keratoconus is suspected, measurements of the shape of the cornea, particularly over time, will help to determine if it is present.
Treatment for keratoconus
The best treatment for keratoconus will depend on its severity and how quickly it is progressing. You optician will be able to advise on what’s best for you.
Glasses or contact lenses can help with mild cases. For most people, their cornea will become stable after a few years and it’s likely that they won’t experience severe vision problems or require further treatment.
In a small number of cases, the cornea becomes so irregular and thinned that the cornea develops scarring and wearing contact lenses, even highly specialised ones, will not be possible. If this happens, you might need to consider surgery. You’ll be referred to see a specialist who will be able to determine the best type of treatment or surgery for you.
Only in the rarest of circumstances will keratoconus lead to severe vision difficulties. However, the condition can progress to a level where poor vision can affect your normal life.
Typically, keratoconus starts at puberty or in the teenage years and slowly progresses over 10 to 20 years to become stable.
In the early stages, your optometrist will be able to advise if glasses or contact lenses are the best course of treatment for you. If the condition continues to progress, referral to a corneal specialist will be required to consider further treatment options, depending on the severity of the keratoconus.