Do you have keratoconus? It can be a frustrating condition that makes your vision slowly worsen over time.
There are several keratoconus treatment options. Many focus on correcting your vision rather than preventing it from worsening further.
But there is a highly effective treatment that can slow and may even stop keratoconus from progressing further. It’s a treatment called corneal cross-linking.
So what is corneal cross-linking, and how does it treat keratoconus? Keep reading to learn more about keratoconus, how it changes your cornea’s shape, and how corneal cross-linking can help!
What is Keratoconus?
Keratoconus is a condition that affects the cornea. The cornea is the clear part of the eye found at the front.
The cornea is what light refracts through when it passes through your eye. When the cornea is misshapen, light doesn’t refract correctly.
The misshapenness of the cornea causes blurry vision. If you have a refractive error like nearsightedness, farsightedness, or astigmatism, you’ll have blurry vision.
Keratoconus is not a refractive error. Instead, it changes the shape of the cornea more and more over time.
The condition causes the cornea to thin and gradually begin to bulge outwards. This makes the cornea more cone-shaped than dome-shaped.
The name keratoconus explains its meaning: the suffix “conus” indicates the cone shape, and the prefix “kerato” means cornea.
The more cone-shaped your cornea becomes, the worse your vision becomes, as light can’t refract properly through your cornea. It’s unclear what causes keratoconus.
What’s known is that it can affect anyone at any age. However, you may be more likely to develop the eye condition if you have a family history of keratoconus.
Frequent eye-rubbing is also associated with the condition. If you already have keratoconus, rubbing your eyes increases the condition’s progression.
Treatment for keratoconus may involve special contacts and implants that help correct the shape of the cornea or compensate for it. Corneal cross-linking is the best treatment for preventing further bulging and changes to the shape of the cornea.
What is Corneal Cross-Linking?
Corneal cross-linking is an advanced form of keratoconus treatment. It’s minimally invasive and can effectively slow or halt the progression of the condition.
Other keratoconus treatments aim to help patients see better, with some able to improve the cornea’s shape slightly. However, most treatments are ineffective at keeping the cornea from bulging more.
Corneal cross-linking prevents the cornea from further bulging and changes its shape by strengthening it. The treatment is usually best when used with other treatments, especially if you have an advanced case of keratoconus.
Corneal cross-linking cannot reverse vision loss from keratoconus. Even if you undergo the treatment, you may still need implants or special contacts to see appropriately.
Undergoing Corneal Cross-Linking Treatment
Corneal cross-linking treatment is a minimally invasive procedure performed on an outpatient basis. There are no surgical incisions required, meaning you’ll be able to recover very quickly.
Before the corneal cross-linking procedure begins, you’ll have your eyes numbed with eye drops. After the eye drops spread over the surface of your eye, you’ll have the epithelium of your eye removed with a chemical scrub.
The epithelium is the thin, protective layer over your cornea. Removing the epithelium ensures the corneal cross-linking treatment can make its way deep inside your cornea.
Once your ophthalmologist removes the epithelium, they will put more eye drops directly onto your eye. These eye drops are from a chemical called riboflavin, also called vitamin B.
After the riboflavin disperses and soaks into the eye, you’ll have a special device that emits a UV light placed over the eye. UV light activates the riboflavin, allowing it to strengthen your cornea.
The treatment takes around 30 minutes to complete. Because your eyes are numb, you won’t feel any pain. After completing corneal cross-linking, you’ll have a bandage contact lens placed over your eye.
The contact acts like a bandage while the epithelium heals. It takes two weeks for the epithelium to regenerate. During that time, you can go about your daily activities with the bandage contact lens in place.
How Corneal Cross-Linking Works
Now that you better understand corneal cross-linking, it’s time to discuss how the treatment works. First, you should know that your cornea and many parts of your body are made of tiny fibers linked together.
The fibers are from a protein called collagen. Collagen is a tissue that connects other tissues.
It’s a significant component of your bones, skin, cartilage, tendons, and muscles. Without collagen, your body can’t function properly, as it makes up 30% of your body’s total protein.
Although the exact cause of keratoconus is still unknown, it’s understood that the cornea thins and bulges when bonds that link collagen fibers break down. Corneal cross-linking strengthens the cornea by creating more bonds between collagen fibers.
When UV light activates it, the riboflavin adds more bonds to the fibers. Increasing the number of bonds to the fibers helps them stay together better.
With more bonds keeping them together, these fibers are harder to break apart. When the fibers are harder to break apart, it’s harder for the cornea to continue to bulge or be misshapen.
The effectiveness of corneal cross-linking can vary. It can significantly slow down how much the cornea bulges for many patients.
For patients with keratoconus, a treatment like corneal cross-linking is worth considering. At the very least, it can help stop vision from worsening further due to keratoconus.
Do you have keratoconus? Find out if corneal cross-linking could help your symptoms by requesting an appointment with the team at Herschel LASIK & Cataract Institute in Orlando, FL, today! Isn’t it time to see if there are other options for treating keratoconus?