Keratoconus is a degenerative eye disease which leads to the steepening of the cornea and a variety of vision problems. Recently, research has shown that the cause of Keratoconus is an increase in oxidative species (free radicals) which weaken the cornea and make it protrude to form the characteristic bulging out or cone shape exhibited in patients with the condition. This leads to multiple symptoms including blurring of vision, halos, sensitivity to glare and light, and vision at night. Thus far, the most common treatment doctors are prescribing is an invasive and difficult corneal transplant, but there is a new, non-surgical, and effective approach that directly addresses the collagen weakness, Cornea Collagen Cross-Linking.
Cornea cross-linking is not the only alternative to a corneal transplant and other new methods include conductive keratoplasty and Intacs® (intercorneal ring segments). Nevertheless, corneal cross-linking is the leading new treatment for Keratoconus. Corneal cross-linking strengthens the collagen that was previously weakened by the increase in oxidative species. It regenerates the collagen structure and support by providing more cross-links through the addition of riboflavin and a UV-A light for 30 minutes and of course corneal cross-linking. Currently, corneal cross-linking has two methods, with epithelium removal and without.
Epithelium removal is important for the riboflavin and light to cause new bonds and strengthen the structure of the cornea. However, it leads to a longer and more painful recovery time. Furthermore, when the epithelium is scraped off, there are more associated complications including corneal infections/ulcers, corneal infiltrates, corneal scarring, corneal haze, etc. Dr. Boxer Wachler, a pioneer and leading specialist in Keratoconus, was the first surgeon to perform a corneal cross-linking without removing the epithelium. He named this procedure the Holcomb C3-R® after Steve Holcomb, a patient with Keratoconus and one of the four-man team who won the first U.S. Gold Medal in the Bobsled.
Intacs® are becoming ever more popular as a Keratoconus treatment. These intercorneal segments are inserted into the periphery of the cornea after gently separating tissue layers. The small plastic inserts reshape the cornea and correct for the “steepening of the cornea” that is indicative of Keratoconus. This means better overall vision and less of the frustrating and disrupting symptoms of Keratoconus.
Combining Intacs® and Holcomb C3-R® (Corneal Cross-Linking) Keratoconus specialists have found a treatment that doesn’t require the invasive surgery and painful recovery of a corneal transplant. In fact, the traditional Keratoconus surgery (corneal transplant) is more of a last resort with the variety of alternatives now available.
The negative impact of Keratoconus on quality of life is indisputable and until recently, the treatment was also indisputably difficult to obtain and perform. Now, Keratoconus treatments are available that are proven to work relieving you of the suffering the progressive disease causes. There are two critical considerations when approaching a medical condition. The physician that treats you and the type of treatment you ascertain. If you or a loved one is suffering from Keratoconus make sure to be informed of the disease and the treatments available before getting on that long corneal transplant list.