Keratoconus: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

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Living with blurry or distorted vision makes everyday tasks—such as reading and driving—difficult to accomplish. If an underlying condition causes you to have poor vision, see an ophthalmologist or optometrist at the Cleveland Eye Clinic to determine the cause. 

With the right eye care, you can reach your full vision potential. Keep reading to learn about the causes, symptoms, and treatment options related to keratoconus.

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What Is Keratoconus?

Keratoconus is a degenerative eye condition in which collagen fibers in the cornea (the clear, dome-shaped tissue that covers the front of the eye) weaken and wear thin. Ultimately, this will cause the cornea to bulge into a cone shape. While keratoconus generally develops in both eyes, it’s possible to only have one eye affected.

What Causes Keratoconus?

While keratoconus doesn’t have an identifiable cause, it is associated with a few risk factors: 


  • Genetics: One’s chances of developing keratoconus increase if a biological parent or sibling has the condition.


  • Age: People most often develop the keratoconus in their teens; if left untreated, the condition progresses into their 30s.


  • Eye rubbing: Some studies show that keratoconus may be caused or exacerbated by consistent eye rubbing.

6 Common Keratoconus Symptoms

Keratoconus is characterized by six primary symptoms:

  • Blurry or distorted vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Nearsightedness
  • Declining night vision
  • Consistent changes in eyeglasses or contact prescription
  • Eye irritation

If you experience one or more of these symptoms, consult a Cleveland Eye Clinic doctor to determine whether you have keratoconus.

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Keratoconus Treatment Options

While no known treatments prevent the onset of keratoconus, surgical treatments can prevent the condition from worsening over time. The goal of seeking treatment early on is to avoid a corneal transplant, considering it’s a difficult procedure to undergo and recover from. Some patients who seek early treatment experience better vision with contact lenses. However, this is not the outcome in all cases.

Patients who wait too long to undergo CXL surgery may end up with corneas that are too thin to treat using this approach. Once the corneas become too thin for CXL surgery, a patient’s only option may be to undergo a corneal transplant to replace the damaged corneas with healthy ones.

Surgical Treatments


1. Corneal cross-linking (CXL)

Corneal cross-linking (CXL) is a minimally invasive, outpatient procedure that strengthens the cornea by increasing the space between collagen fibers. It has an impressive 95% success rate.


During this procedure, the surgeon uses ultraviolet light to create a chemical bond between the collagen fibers in the eye to strengthen and thicken the cornea, thus reducing the cone shape. Surgeons use a local anesthetic to perform CXL surgery.

2. Intacs

Intacs are small plastic arcs that are surgically implanted into the patient’s eye. They use pressure to gently flatten the cornea, correcting the bulging cone shape caused by keratoconus. Intacs can treat keratoconus on their own or be used in conjunction with CXL surgery.


3. Corneal transplant

A corneal transplant is a surgical outpatient procedure that replaces the damaged cornea with a healthy one. Its effects generally last about ten years. The most common type of corneal transplant is called an “epithelial” transplant. This type of transplant involves removing the damaged cornea from the patient’s eye and replacing it with a healthy donor cornea.

Like with any transplant procedure, patients who undergo a corneal transplant run the risk of their eye(s) rejecting the new cornea. The best way to ensure a successful transplant is to:

  • Take the medication your surgeon prescribes to reduce pain, swelling, and infection.
  • Cover your eyes with eyeglasses or sunglasses to protect them from potential damage.
  • Attend all follow-up appointments.

Reach Your Full Vision Potential at Cleveland Eye Clinic

Cleveland Eye Clinic has been Ohio’s leader in eye care excellence since 1943. Our expert surgeons utilize the latest eye care technology and treatments to produce optimal patient outcomes. Whether you’re seeking a CXL procedure or need a corneal transplant, Cleveland Eye Clinic has a solution for all your vision needs. Schedule an appointment to get the compassionate eye care you deserve.

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