Whether you were recently diagnosed with keratoconus, or have been living with it for years, you may be wondering more about this lesser-known – and often misdiagnosed – eye condition. If you’re not familiar, keratoconus, often referred to as KC, is an eye condition in which the cornea weakens and thins over time, causing the development of a cone-like bulge and optical irregularity of the cornea. The condition may result in significant vision loss and can require a corneal transplant in severe cases. 

To help you understand more about the condition, we’re providing an overview of everything you need to know about keratoconus, including causes, symptoms, and demographics. Keep reading to learn more.

What Causes Keratoconus?

Many people want to know what specifically caused their condition or injury. However, there’s not a clear-cut answer when it comes to keratoconus. While the exact cause of the condition is unknown, there are believed to be several factors that may play a role. Below are some potential causes of keratoconus. 

  • Genetics: It is said that keratoconus can be caused by a family history of the condition. In fact, people with a parent, sibling, or child who has keratoconus have a 15 to 67 times higher risk of developing the condition compared to people with no affected relatives.
  • Eye Trauma: Corneas can be damaged and keratoconus can be a result of minor trauma such as eye rubbing. To prevent unnecessary eye trauma, avoid rubbing your eyes at all costs! It has also been suggested that poorly fit contact lenses that rub against the cornea may be a possible cause of keratoconus. Make sure to call your doctor if you suspect your contact lenses do not fit correctly. 
  • Allergies: Allergies are believed to play a role in causing keratoconus, as a high percentage of people with the condition also have disorders such as hay fever, asthma, eczema, and food allergies. Allergies can cause eye irritation and itching, which can also be another cause of eye trauma. 
  • Hormones: It has been suggested that the endocrine system, the collection of glands that produce hormones that regulate metabolism, growth and development and more,  may play a role in causing keratoconus because it is typically first detected at puberty and progresses during pregnancy. Some reports have suggested that estrogens, progesterone, and thyroid hormones contribute to the alteration of corneal biomechanics. 

What Are the Signs and Symptoms of Keratoconus?

Keratoconus symptoms, like blurry vision and headaches, are not unique to KC and can be easily attributed to other conditions, which is why the condition can sometimes be difficult to diagnose early. Signs and symptoms of keratoconus may change over time as the disease progresses, and someone who has early-stage keratoconus may experience completely different symptoms than someone who has been living with keratoconus for years. For many people, keratoconus affects both eyes, although one eye is usually more severely affected than the other. It’s also not uncommon that symptoms may vary in each eye. Common keratoconus symptoms may include:

  • Blurring or distorted vision, making it difficult to see clearly
  • Increased sensitivity to light and glares, which can cause problems while driving at night 
  • Eye redness or swelling
  • Changes in the shape of the eye, as keratoconus causes a cone-like bulge and optical irregularity of the cornea
  • Frequent changes in eyeglass prescriptions
  • Halos and ghosting
  • Excessive eye rubbing 
  • Eye irritation 
  • Headaches 

Who is Affected by Keratoconus?

While it may seem like you’re alone in your keratoconus journey, that is not the case! Although rare, keratoconus is more common than you may think. The condition affects men and women of all ethnicities worldwide, and typically first appears in individuals who are in their late teens or early twenties. 

Specifically, in the United States, men, African-American, Latino and Asian populations have a higher risk of developing keratoconus, while women and those with diabetes seem to have a reduced risk. The condition is also more prevalent in those with Sleep Apnea and Down syndrome, with research showing that 5-15% of people with Down syndrome are affected by keratoconus. Additionally, those with connective tissue disorders, such as Marfan syndrome and Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, show an increased prevalence of keratoconus. 

Gaining Helpful Insight

Hopefully, you have now gained some helpful insight into keratoconus, especially the causes, symptoms, and demographics of this progressive condition. If you have any additional questions or are concerned about any symptoms you are experiencing, don’t hesitate to contact your doctor. Stay tuned for Part Two of our Keratoconus 101 blog post, where we’ll review available treatment options, such as iLink® FDA-approved cross-linking, as well as post-cross-linking maintenance and care. 

Visit our website to learn more or to find a keratoconus specialist near you. Don’t forget to follow Living with KC on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram for more information and for keratoconus support.