Who gets Keratoconus and what is the cause?
According to NHS England, Keratoconus affects up to one in 3000 people and affects 5–15% of people with Down syndrome. Typically, it is diagnosed in young people who are at puberty in their late teens or early twenties.
The exact cause is unknown, which is why the National Keratoconus Foundation are investing so much time and effort into find a cause and a cure.
Currently, it is believed that genetics and environmental factors are an influence on the condition. However, scientists do not consider it to be an inherited disease although, in rare cases, some families encounter more than one individual who has been affected. To diagnose Keratoconus your optician or ophthalmologist will carry out a number of tests that will measure any changes to the shape of your cornea over time. The tests include focus checks to give you your prescription, a measurement of the curve of your cornea to work out how much astigmatism there is and also a measurement of how thick your cornea is.
How does Keratoconus cause significant vision impairment?
The cornea is responsible for refracting most of the light that comes into our eyes. If there are abnormalities of the cornea, the was we see the world and do simple tasks is severely affected, making it difficult. As the eye is a cone shape rather than a sphere shape, an abnormal curvature is created known as an astigmatism. This can cause blurry vision, problems with glare and also light sensitivity. KC is also known to cause your eye to become more myopic (short-sighted) making distant objects appear blurred, while those nearer are clearer. Occasionally, people with the condition can develop hydrops which is a sudden outbreak in the surface of the cornea, allowing fluid to enter the cornea and cause swelling. This symptom call cause vision loss and discomfort. However, this will usually resolve spontaneously and does not require treatment.
Can Keratoconus be treated?
The main treatment used to help those who have KC is to try and correct the vision impairments caused by the condition. To begin with, patients are given glasses. However, if the condition worsens, your optometrist may suggest hard contact lenses to help correct your sight. These lenses tend to be thicker and heavier than the soft kind and can also cause your vision to be distorted when you are looking through the edge of the lens. Despite this, they provide a more even shape to your cornea which helps improve your ability to focus. If you are prescribed lenses, you may find that you are having to change your glasses frequently due to your cornea being thinner and more flexible because of the condition. In addition to a prescription of contacts and glasses, doctors may consider Corneal Cross-Linking. Corneal Cross-Linking is where doctors use special eye drops and ultraviolet A(UVA) light to help the damaged tissue in your cornea grow stronger. This process stops the bulge on the eye getting worse as it adds special bonds that work like support beams to help the cornea stay stable. If you do have or develop this lifelong condition, it is important to understand the nature of it so that you can learn to embrace it. Having a lack of knowledge incites fear so it’s best that you do your research and ask your doctor/ophthalmologist all the question you have. Join support groups for those who are living with Keratoconus and find out how they find living with the condition and get advice from those who are dealing with it first hand.