Eye rubbing and Keratoconus

Keratoconus is a corneal disease that is characterized by corneal thinning and steepening that leads to an abnormally shaped corneal surface. This is a poorly understood condition but can lead to an increase in myopia (nearsightedness) and astigmatism if there is progression. The exact cause is unknown, but there is a genetic link since around 1/10 of people who have keratoconus have a parent with the same condition. There are also recent studies that show eye rubbing can trigger or worsen symptoms in someone with underlying keratoconus. It can appear between the ages of 10 and 25, usually progressing slowly until the age of 40.

Eye rubbing’s effects on keratoconus:

Studies have shown that there appears to be a link between eye rubbing and keratoconus. The repetitive mechanical trauma from eye rubbing can weaken the cornea, increasing the progression of keratoconus.  An individual with a long habit of rubbing their eyes can develop keratoconus in the rubbed eye, both eyes equally or in both eyes unevenly. There is a high association between people with allergies and keratoconus which can be explained by the fact that many people with chronic allergies rub their eyes. Eye rubbing causes keratocyte thinning to varying severities, depending on the intensity and time spent rubbing.

What can I do to be screened for and prevent keratoconus?

The most important step if you suspect you may be at risk for keratoconus is to have regular eye exams. Risk factors for developing keratoconus include positive family history, chronic allergies, eye rubbing, and Down Syndrome. Symptoms of keratoconus include blurry vision with or without glasses/contacts, increasing myopia (nearsightedness), and increasing astigmatism. Scheduling appointments with your eye doctor and informing them of any of the above risk factors or symptoms will allow them to properly screen you for this condition.

Try to avoid rubbing your eyes as much as possible. If you feel intense itchiness or dryness in your eyes which causes you to rub them, try artificial tear drops, allergy eye drops, or oral allergy medications and talk to your doctor about potential solutions for your symptoms. Stay aware of changes to your vision, especially if it begins to progressively decline, and update your doctor of any new changes or symptoms.

Treatment options for keratoconus:

Slowing disease progression and providing optimal vision correction are the primary goals of treatment for keratoconus. Nearsightedness and astigmatism are generally treated with glasses and specialized contacts in the early stages, but as eyesight continues to worsen, other options need to be considered.

One popular treatment option for the early/moderate stages of keratoconus is Corneal Cross-Linking surgery. During the procedure, your eye doctor uses a combination of Riboflovan eye drops and ultraviolet (UV) light to strengthen the cornea by creating extra bonds that act as support beams between the collagen fibers throughout the cornea. This process can prevent the progression of keratoconus, but not reverse any existing damage to the vision that has already been done, so it is important that your eye doctor screens you for this disease in order to diagnose it at an early stage.

If left untreated, keratoconus can eventually deteriorate the vision to a point where glasses and contacts are unable to provide adequate vision. At this point, the only option left to restore vision is Cornea Surgery. Penetrating keratoplasty (PKP) is a corneal transplant procedure that requires the removal of the entire diseased central cornea and replacing it with a new one by suturing a donor cornea in place. The healing time lasts from months to years and patients must use steroid eye drops indefinitely to prevent rejection.

As a whole, it is integral that keratoconus is detected and treated as early as possible in order to prevent having to undergo such an invasive procedure as a cornea transplant. Eye rubbing can trigger and cause the progression of this condition. There is a range of treatment options for the disease, so ask your eye doctor about them today!

For more information, please contact Dr. Salisbury at https://salisbury-vision.com/contact/.