How Corneal Cross-Linking Treats Keratoconus

If you’ve been diagnosed with the degenerative eye condition known as keratoconus, there’s hope. A revolutionary procedure called corneal cross-linking can halt the disease’s progression and preserve the vision you have.

At Charleston Cornea & Refractive Surgery, Dr. David O’Day specialize in helping patients retain and regain their eyesight. If you have keratoconus or think you might have it, Dr. O’Day can examine your eyes and tell you if you’re a candidate for corneal cross-linking.

How keratoconus affects your eyes

You see through your cornea, the clear outer lens of your eye, sometimes called the "windshield" of your eye. A healthy cornea is shaped like a dome or half-sphere, but sometimes that shape can become altered.

If the structure of your cornea isn’t strong enough to hold its round shape, it may begin to bulge outward in more of a cone shape. Collagen, a protein that’s integral to many structures in your body, is what helps hold your cornea in place and prevent it from bulging. If your collagen fibers are weak, they can’t keep your cornea in shape. The weaker your collagen fibers are, the more cone-shaped your cornea becomes.

That condition is called keratoconus.

Keratoconus starts when the amount of protective antioxidants in your cornea decreases. In healthy corneas, antioxidants get rid of harmful byproducts and protect the collagen fibers in your eyes. Like exhaust from a car, your cornea cells produce damaging by-products. But in eyes with low antioxidant levels, the collagen weakens due to those byproducts that aren’t expelled.

Symptoms of keratoconus include:

What does corneal cross-linking do?

Corneal cross-linking is a minimally invasive procedure that treats keratoconus. It can’t reverse keratoconus, but it can keep it from worsening. So cross-linking works best if you’ve just been diagnosed with keratoconus.

With corneal cross-linking, Dr. O’Day places a solution on your corneas that contains riboflavin (vitamin B2). He then exposes your corneas to a low dose of ultraviolet A (UVA) light. This process strengthens the tissues in your cornea. The procedure is called “cross-linking,” because it creates new bonds between the collagen fibers in your cornea.

Think of the new links as support beams for your corneas.

What is the treatment like?

Dr. O’Day performs corneal cross-linking as an outpatient procedure. First, he numbs your eyes with special eye drops, and he gives you medication to relax you. Then, he puts the riboflavin solution on your eyes and exposes them to the UVA light.

The eye drops help your corneas to better absorb the light, and as the solution reacts with the light, your eyes generate new collagen and fortify the collagen that already exists.

You won’t feel any pain, because your eyes will be numb from the first solution. Corneal cross-linking usually takes about an hour, but you may need to remain at the office for a little while afterwards to recover. Make sure you have someone ready to drive you home.

Why you should consider corneal cross-linking for keratoconus

Right now, corneal cross-linking is the only FDA-approved treatment that can prevent keratoconus from progressing. Corneal cross-linking is minimally invasive, and early treatment may save you from needing a corneal transplant, which is a much more invasive and time-intensive surgery.

To find out if corneal cross-linking can help you, book an appointment online or over the phone with Charleston Cornea & Refractive Surgery today.

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