Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease which can cause the cornea to thin and bulge. An irregular cornea shape can affect your vision and make it more difficult to wear contact lenses. Effective treatment for this condition can be challenging. However, scleral lenses have proven to be a viable option that many people with keratoconus may find life-changing.
Scleral lenses are specialized contact lenses that rest on the sclera, the white part of the eye, instead of the cornea, the clear dome at the front of the eye. Scleral lenses vault over the cornea, making them an effective solution for people with keratoconus who want the benefits of contact lenses.
What Is Keratoconus?
If you’ve been diagnosed with keratoconus, you’re not alone. Keratoconus is considered rare but still can affect up to 1 in 400 people in the United States, according to recent studies.
Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease that occurs when the cornea—the clear, dome-shaped layer that covers the front of your eye—thins and changes shape, adopting a more cone-like appearance. This bulging can continue into a person’s mid-30s.
When keratoconus develops during early adulthood, the mild vision changes may initially be difficult to notice. As the disease progresses, some symptoms may become more noticeable:
- Blurred or distorted vision, especially when looking at bright lights or trying to read small print
- Double vision or seeing multiple images in one eye
- Increased sensitivity to light
- Eye strain or frequent headaches
- Increased myopia or astigmatism
- Difficulty wearing contact lenses comfortably
Causes of Keratoconus
Potential risk factors for keratoconus include:
- A family history of the condition (approximately 10% of people with keratoconus have a parent with it)
- Frequent eye allergies or irritation
- Chronic eye rubbing, which can weaken the cornea
- Certain genetic mutations that affect the structure of the cornea
How Scleral Lenses Work
Scleral lenses are a type of rigid gas-permeable lens which can address issues related to a distorted corneal shape in keratoconus patients. The lens vaults over the cornea, creating a liquid-filled reservoir between the lens and the surface of the eye. The fluid-filled chamber gives a smooth refractive surface that helps to minimize corneal distortion.
This space created by the scleral lens can provide sharper vision while providing a protective cushion between the lens and the cornea. The fluid-filled space also supports oxygen passing through to the eye, which is important for eye health.
During a scleral lens evaluation, your optometrist will take precise measurements to customize the lens to your eyes.
Your optometrist will use measurement equipment, such as the pentacam tomographer, to map your cornea. With this unique impression, you can receive a personalized scleral lens made specifically for your eye.
Benefits of Scleral Lenses
Scleral lenses come with several benefits, including:
- Improved vision: By allowing light to enter the eye properly, scleral lenses correct and improve vision.
- Enhanced comfort: Scleral lenses rest securely on the sclera, preventing them from potentially moving around in the eye. This security can provide improved comfortability.
- Improved quality of life: Wearers of scleral lenses have said they offer the ability to see clearly and enjoy a better quality of life.
Who Are Scleral Lenses For?
Scleral lenses can be an excellent option for people who want to enjoy the benefits of contact lenses but have been told their eyes are “hard to fit” due to keratoconus. But keratoconus isn’t the only condition scleral lenses can help.
Scleral lenses can offer relief for numerous eye issues, including but not limited to:
- Corneal scarring: Scleral lenses redistribute the pressure over the eye, reducing the potential for eye tissue damage and creating a smooth surface to improve vision.
- Dry eyes: Scleral lenses provide a liquid reservoir to keep moisture on the eyes and may prevent dry eye disease.
- Astigmatism: Scleral lenses can correct blurry vision caused by astigmatism in the same way as contacts for nearsightedness or farsightedness.
Caring for Scleral Lenses
Caring for scleral lenses is similar to the care required for regular contact lenses. You must disinfect them daily and use the recommended solutions for storage.
Your optometrist can offer care instructions to help you safely use your lenses and prevent damage to them.
Experience the Comfort of Scleral Lenses
Scleral lenses have become an important treatment option for people with keratoconus, as they offer improved vision and comfort for many people with eye conditions that may be difficult to treat.