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Facts about Keratoconus

"Keratoconus is a progressive eye condition that sometimes is difficult to diagnose," says Michael Ward, FCLSA, director of Emory Eye Center's contact lens service. "Keratoconus usually affects both eyes and requires careful contact lens management."

Typically appearing during the teens to early 20s, keratoconus causes the cornea to thin and form scar tissue, until the eye is cone shaped. Since the cornea is responsible for most of the eyes' refraction, any disruption can cause considerable visual distortion that may not be corrected with spectacles. Individuals with keratoconus require specially designed contact lenses to
manage vision.

Common misconception: That contact lenses halt the progress of keratoconus. In fact, the lenses simply improve vision while the condition is developing. "However, improperly fitted lenses may worsen the condition by increasing the rate of scar tissue formation," says Ward.

Research: A gene has now been identified. However, it does not act alone; it may require other genes or environmental influence to manifest itself. Additionally, it does seem to run in some families.

Diagnosis: Emory's contact lens service specializes in managing keratoconus and fitting contact lenses. A specialist evaluates the cornea using sophisticated computerized video keratography to provide a topographical map of the eye's surface. This allows specialists to follow the progression of keratoconus.

Treatment: While they are not a cure for keratoconus, the specially designed rigid gas-permeable contact lenses available at Emory give the eye a smooth surface to permit better vision.

Prognosis: The rate of progression often decreases during the 40s and 50s. In fact it rarely develops in those over 40 and may halt progression at any stage. If keratoconus continues to worsen, corneal transplantation may be necessary. For Ward and his colleagues at Emory, the goal is to delay surgery as long as possible.

The Emory Eye Center provides general eye examinations and specialty eye care. Research conducted by Emory contact lens specialists has resulted in major breakthroughs in preventing infection and increasing the comfort and function of contact lenses. The contact lens service, in addition to its special interest in treating patients with keratoconus and surgically altered corneas, provides complete lens services, including bifocal lenses and advanced computer-aided lens designs for therapeutic and cosmetic purposes.

Media Contact: Joy H. Bell

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