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Closeup of an Eye Experiencing Keratoconus

Do you or someone you love have keratoconus? You may be a good candidate for a revolutionary treatment called corneal cross-linking offered at Dell Laser Consultants. Dr. Dell was the first surgeon in Austin to offer this technology and served as the chairman of the first national meeting on corneal cross-linking in the US. 

What is Keratoconus?

Keratoconus is a progressive eye condition that causes the cornea to become too thin and bulge. It causes the cornea to bow forward abnormally, causing blurred vision. 

As the cornea becomes thinner, it will bulge outward, resembling a cone. When this happens, the cornea becomes irregularly shaped, impairing vision. 

It is a fairly common condition, affecting about 1 in 400 people. Keratoconus tends to run in families, and there is a strong correlation between eye rubbing and eye allergies. 

Children can sometimes be affected, and their vision can deteriorate very rapidly. It is particularly critical to treat children with keratoconus promptly once the diagnosis is made.

What Causes Keratoconus?

Though the exact cause of keratoconus is still unknown, the cause stems from a combination of environmental factors and being passed down as a hereditary condition. Two of the most established risk factors of the eye condition are having a family history of keratoconus and rubbing of the eyes. 

These factors lead to structural changes and thinning of the cornea.

Who is Most Likely to Develop Keratoconus?

Although anyone can develop keratoconus, you’re most likely to develop the eye condition if:

You Have a Family History of Keratoconus

Knowing you have a family member, like a sister, brother, or parent, with keratoconus dramatically increases your risk of developing keratoconus. Make sure to tell your ophthalmologist so they can monitor your eyes for any early signs of the eye condition.

You’re a Teenager or Young Adult

Keratoconus usually develops in patients in their teens or around their early twenties or thirties. After this age range, rates decline quickly.

You Have Certain Medical Conditions

If you have certain medical conditions like Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, Down syndrome, Marfan syndrome, hay fever, or asthma, these can increase your risk of developing keratoconus.

If you believe you’re at an increased risk of developing keratoconus, it’s essential to tell your eye doctor so they can monitor your eyes for any signs of the eye condition.

How Often Should You Have Your Eyes Checked for Conditions Like Keratoconus?

If you’re concerned about keratoconus, you should have annual eye exams conducted starting in your teenage years. Annual eye exams at this age can help spot any early changes to the eyes due to keratoconus.

If you or a loved one are diagnosed with keratoconus, eye exams will be needed every 6-12 months. These eye exams will allow your ophthalmologist to assess the progression of the eye condition. They will also enable them to adapt treatment and make changes if necessary.

Does Keratoconus Have Any Symptoms?

If you have keratoconus, common symptoms include:

Blurry Vision

As the cornea becomes thinner and continues bulging out as the condition progresses, vision becomes more distorted. Patients with keratoconus will notice a loss of sharp, clear vision, noting that everything looks blurry instead. 

This will be the case even if they wear glasses and contact lenses. Blurry vision is often one of the first symptoms patients with keratoconus notice or experience.

Light Sensitivity and Glare

As the cornea continues changing its shape in patients with keratoconus, another symptom patients may notice is increased light sensitivity and glare, along with halos. These can make driving far more challenging at night due to streetlights and lights from oncoming traffic.

More Frequent Prescription Changes

Patients will likely need more frequent changes in their glasses and contact lenses prescription as keratoconus progresses. 

How Do You Treat Keratoconus?

Because keratoconus is a progressive eye condition, treating it requires management. Treatment options for keratoconus include:

Rigid Gas Permeable Contact Lenses

Rigid gas permeable (RGP) contact lenses are specially designed for patients with keratoconus. These contact lenses create a smooth optical surface over the cornea’s irregular shape due to keratoconus. 

Intracorneal Ring Segments

Intracorneal ring segments are small segments implanted in the cornea to flatten its cone shape temporarily. This helps improve vision and symptoms associated with keratoconus.

Corneal Transplant

Advanced cases of keratoconus may require a corneal transplant when the cornea becomes dangerously thin or if sufficient visual acuity is no longer possible due to steepening, contact lens intolerance, or corneal scarring. This may require a full or partial corneal transplant to remove diseased corneal tissue to improve vision.

Is Keratoconus Hereditary?

Yes, keratoconus can be hereditary. If you have a close family member, like a parent, sibling, or grandparent, who has keratoconus, your risk of developing the eye condition increases.

However, genetics is not the only reason you could develop keratoconus. Environmental factors can also play an essential role. 

Your risk of developing keratoconus may increase due to environmental factors like:

If you believe you’re at an increased risk for developing a condition like keratoconus, inform your eye doctor. Early diagnosis and treatment are crucial to ensuring the management of the eye condition.

Is There a Cure for Keratoconus?

Although there are treatment options for keratoconus, like corneal cross-linking, these can only manage the eye condition. There is no way to cure keratoconus. 

However, with early diagnosis and management with rigid gas-permeable contact lenses as well as other treatments like corneal cross-linking, it’s possible to slow down the progression of keratoconus. Slowing down the progression of keratoconus means maintaining good vision in patients and ensuring they can live a good quality of life.

Frequently Asked Questions About Corneal Cross-Linking

In the past, the only treatments for keratoconus were hard contact lenses or a corneal transplant. At Dell Laser Consultants, we have performed several FDA clinical trials for treating keratoconus (and a related condition called corneal ectasia) using a technique known as corneal collagen cross-linking. 

Corneal collagen cross-linking uses ultraviolet light and the vitamin riboflavin to strengthen the cornea and hopefully stop the progression of the disease. 

First developed in Germany in 1998, corneal collagen cross-linking is a procedure designed to treat corneal ectatic disorders, including keratoconus. This condition causes the cornea, the front transparent layer of the eye that covers the iris, pupil, and anterior chamber, to become thin and irregularly shaped, distorting vision. 

Cross-linking has since become the gold standard worldwide for addressing this concern. While this technology only recently became available to most eye surgeons in the US, at Dell Laser Consultants, we have offered this technology for several years through our FDA clinical trials. 

After several years of clinical trials, we were delighted to see corneal collagen cross-linking receive FDA approval in 2016. We have treated more corneal cross-linking patients in Central Texas than any other clinic.

Cross-linking uses a combination approach to treat corneal thinning. The first step is applying Vitamin B2, riboflavin, to the affected eye or eyes. 

After the eye drops have permeated, the cornea will be exposed to short-wave UVA light for approximately 30 minutes or less. 

Discomfort is typically minimal, and most patients report the experience as pain-free. After the treatment, we will monitor your eyes for several months to help ensure the best possible care and results.

UVA light is designed to activate the riboflavin coating the eye. This can strengthen the cornea and reduce further thinning by creating bonds (cross-links) with existing strands of collagen. 

As a result, thinning typically stops, halting the deterioration of eyesight and potentially improving vision over time.

Numerous studies have been performed on the results of using cross-linking to treat corneal ectatic disorders, and evidence suggests that vision loss is halted in 95 percent of patients. Furthermore, between 60 and 70 percent of individuals experience improved vision.

Cross-linking is designed to be long-lasting; evidence suggests the treatment could be permanent. Studies following patients over ten years have found little to no recurrence of corneal thinning after cross-linking.

If you or anyone you know has been diagnosed with keratoconus or corneal ectasia, we strongly encourage you to contact us for this revolutionary treatment. 

Do you have additional questions about corneal collagen cross-linking in Austin? Schedule an appointment with one of the experienced eye doctors at Dell Laser Consultants in Austin, TX, today!

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