Your eyes are incredibly complex, and understanding exactly how they work can seem a bit daunting. One key thing to understand about eyeball anatomy is that how light enters into your eye and is focused on the retina has a substantial impact on how you’ll interpret your surroundings; your eyes being too short or too long creates nearsightedness and farsightedness, and a clouded lens is the condition known as cataracts. The retina is definitely important, but when the information coming from the front of the eye is distorted by malformations, you’ll have eye problems.
Keratoconus is one of these eye problems, though it’s somewhat more obscure than more common malformations. Collagen in your eye holds the cornea in place and keeps it from bulging outwards; when your collagen fibers are weak, the cornea may begin to bulge outwards, taking on a conic shape instead of the flat shape needed to properly focus light.
It’s unknown what exactly causes keratoconus, but genetics does seem to play a hand in the development of the condition. Other factors can play into its development; people with Down’s Syndrome are more likely to develop the condition, as are people who rub their eyes chronically.
When keratoconus develops, your vision will become blurred. Glasses can correct the vision up to a certain extent; special contact lenses may also be used to mitigate the effects of the conic shape on your vision. The condition will commonly develop during the teenage years and can grow more severe over time, though some folks will begin to develop the condition as late as 30. With very severe keratoconus, the cornea can become so stretched it tears, leading to scarring; that’s one of the many reasons it’s important to get an eye exam done regularly.
Keratoconus will sometimes progress past the point that glasses or special contact lenses will be able to correct. When this occurs, surgery can be a very viable option; a lot of success has been found correcting keratoconus by completing a cornea transplant.
Diagnosing keratoconus is pretty interesting; much like you might discover the lay of the land in a particular area, your optometrist can perform a corneal topography, where a photo is taken and analyzed to map the curvature of your cornea. Fleischer rings, which are found in about half of keratoconus affected eyes, may also be a sign of the condition. Your optometrist will, of course, refer to your patient history and see how your vision has changed over time in order to help assess whether or not you have the condition. A well-developed patient history is a wonderful diagnostic tool; yet another reason you should visit your optometrist on the regular!