Keratoconus Treatment St Louis | Cornea Transplant St Louis, MO

Keratoconus Treatment

Chart Illustrating a Normal Eye vs One With Keratoconus

Keratoconus is an eye condition where the normally round-shaped cornea progressively thins, causing a cone-like bulge to develop. The cornea is the clear window of the eye and is responsible for focusing the light entering the eye. Therefore, distortion of the corneal shape can significantly impact everyday vision. It usually affects both eyes, but one may be more severely impacted.

It has been estimated to occur in 1 out of every 2,000 persons in the general population and can affect men and women alike. The cause of the disease is still being investigated. Genetics, allergies and other environmental factors may contribute to its onset and severity.

Keratoconus is generally first diagnosed in the late teens or early 20s, with symptoms of blurry vision with glasses, frequent glasses prescription changes, and high astigmatism. The severity of keratoconus can vary greatly, with some patients requiring only a simple glasses prescription while others can only see with special, rigid gas permeable contact lenses.

Pepose Vision doctors are corneal experts and leaders in the diagnosis and treatment of Keratoconus and the only eye center in the area that uses an advanced laser for a safer and more precise treatment and offers the absolute latest FDA-approved treatments.

How do I know if I have a keratoconus?

The earliest signs of keratoconus are usually blurred vision and frequent changes in eye glass prescription, or vision that cannot be corrected with glasses. Symptoms of keratoconus generally begin in late teenage years or early twenties, but can start at any time.

Keratoconus, especially in the early stages can be difficult to diagnose and all of the listed symptoms could be associated with other eye problems. Simply recognizing symptoms does not by itself diagnose Keratoconus, which is why we recommend a thorough examination if you have any of these symptoms and even if you don’t, every two years.

Other symptoms include:

  • Increased light sensitivity
  • Difficulty driving at night
  • A halo around lights and ghosting (especially at night)

How do you treat keratoconus?

Intacs corneal inserts or implants are a less invasive surgical option used for correcting bulging or irregularity of the cornea, the front window of the eye. Intacs were originally approved by the FDA in 1999 to treat mild nearsightedness (myopia). However, Intacs are now primarily used to reshape bulging, thin, and/or irregular corneas. Intacs are thin, clear half-rings or semicircular segments of plastic that can be inserted into the cornea to provide support for the cornea and help make its shape more circular (instead of oval).

Inacts on a finger to show how small it is

In 2004, the FDA granted Intacs a Humanitarian Device Exemption (HDE) to allow for surgical treatment of keratoconus. Keratoconus is a condition where the collagen in the cornea is weaker, so that the shape of the cornea changes and bulges. This approval allows Intacs to be marketed for reduction or elimination of nearsightedness and astigmatism in keratoconus patients where functional vision is no longer obtained with glasses or contact lenses.

Intacs Corneal Implants Logo

For keratoconus patients who are contact lens intolerant, Intacs provide a new option to improve both corrected and uncorrected vision, and may defer the need for a corneal transplant. Laser vision correction, such as LASIK, is usually not an option in keratoconus because sculpting and removing tissue with the excimer laser would further thin and weaken an already weakened cornea.

Intacs procedures are performed by fellowship-trained corneal surgeons, such as the cornea specialists at Pepose Vision Institute.

Corneal Cross-Linking

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Corneal Cross-Linking (CXL) is an in-office eye procedure that strengthens the cornea if it’s been weakened by keratoconus.

Alternative and brand names for the procedure include Corneal Collagen Cross-Linking, C3-R, CCL and KXL.

The minimally invasive CXL procedure involves applying liquid riboflavin (vitamin B2) to the surface of the eye, followed by treatment with a controlled application of ultraviolet light, to eliminate corneal ectasia.

Corneal Cross-Linking also can be combined with other procedures for keratoconus treatment, such as Intacs, in advanced cases.

Frequently asked questions

For keratoconus, Intacs work by flattening the steep part of the cornea or cone to reduce vision distortions.

Intacs are made of the same material (polymethyl methacrylate or PMMA) used in cataract lens implants for decades. The semicircular segments come in different thicknesses, with thicker Intacs creating more flattening.

You may be eligible for Intacs if you:

  • Are 21 years of age or older
  • Have keratoconus, pellucid marginalis, or other conditions marked by corneal bulging and thinning
  • Have unstable vision or an irregular corneal shape after LASIK
  • Have visual distortion even with glasses or contact lenses
  • Are unable to wear your contacts comfortably

Patients with central corneal scarring or extremely thin and steep corneas may not be eligible for Intacs. Corneal transplant procedures may be considered for these very advanced keratoconus patients.

Intacs surgery is a same-day, out-patient procedure. The first step of Intacs insertion is applying antibiotic and anesthetic drops to the surface of the eye. Patients also usually receive oral sedation, so that a driver is needed after the procedure.
A lid holder is applied to prevent blinking during the procedure, which is performed under an operating microscope while the patient is lying flat on the back.

An advanced laser (iFS femtosecond laser) is used to create a 360 degree ring-like tunnel or channel at approximately 70% – 80% depth of the cornea. The tunnel is approximately 3.5 mm away from the center of the cornea, so that most patients do not actually see the Intacs implants in their vision.

Pepose Vision Institute surgeons are proud to be the FIRST and ONLY corneal specialists in the Bi-State region to utilize a bladeless technique to create Intacs channels.

Following creation of the channels, one or two half-ring Intacs segments are inserted into the channel.  The segments come in different thickness, such that the Intacs size can be customized based upon the shape of the individual cornea.

Following the procedure, the patient is advised to rest overnight. Antibiotic, anti-inflammatory, and artificial tear drops are used for several days or weeks. There is some fluctuation in the vision and some mild eye irritation. However, you do not feel the Intacs because they are below the skin of the cornea.

Usually, the vision will improve within a few days but full healing can take over 3 months. Some patients may start wearing temporary soft contact lenses to improve their vision during the corneal healing phase. A final glasses or contact lens prescription will be measured 3 – 6 months after the procedure.

Results of Intacs will depend on the degree of keratoconus or corneal irregularity in each individual. However, Intacs may not halt progressive bulging and steepening of the cornea from keratoconus or similar corneal diseases. Clinical studies of investigational procedure such as corneal cross-linking to stiffen the corneal collagen and prevent bulging are underway. Intacs patients may be candidates for future cross-linking procedures.

Intacs are designed for long-term vision correction, but are reversible. Intacs may not sufficiently improve the vision in about 5% of patients. In these cases, Intacs can be surgically removed from cornea or can be replaced with different size ring segments. If Intacs are permanently removed, the vision will likely return to the way it was prior to surgery after a few months. Following removal, Intacs usually do not leave behind scar tissue, although this possible.

As with any surgery, infection of the corneal tissue surrounding the segments or the insertion incision site is possible. Usually this would occur within the first few weeks of the surgery and can be treated with antibiotic drops or with removal of the segments. For this reason, antibiotic drops are applied prior to the surgery and for several days afterwards. It is possible for the Intacs implants to shift from their original position, in which case they may be repositioned or permanently removed. It is also possible for the corneal tissue overlying the implants to thin, in which case the implants may require removal.

During the surgery, it is possible for the tunnel or channel for the implants to be too deep or too shallow within the substance of the cornea, such that implant insertion is not possible. It is also possible for perforation of the corneal tissue to occur during insertion of the Intacs segments.

Some patients experience visual symptoms including difficulty with night vision, glare, halos, blurry and fluctuating vision.

A corneal transplant involves replacing either a portion of the cornea or of the entire central cornea with corneal donor tissue. As it is a more invasive surgery, its complications can be much more severe. It typically requires a long recovery period of several months to a year.

The Intacs procedure does not require removal of corneal tissue, but rather reshapes the weakened cornea by adding mechanical support to it. The recovery period is typically shorter, with more rapid improvement in vision. The synthetic material of Intacs is not at risk for rejection the way donor transplant tissue is.

In some cases, if Intacs are not effective, patients can proceed with corneal transplantation.

Why choose Pepose Vision to treat your keratoconus?

The doctors at Pepose Vision are highly experienced in the diagnosis and treatment of keratoconus, having treated thousands of patients.

Our surgeons are proud to be the FIRST and ONLY corneal specialists in the Bi-State region to utilize a bladeless technique to create Intacs channels.

Should you be diagnosed with keratoconus, we advise that the best way to ensure a successful outcome is to choose a highly experienced specialist who is involved in developing customized treatments to enhance your vision outcome.

What’s your next step?

If you think you might have keratoconus, or any vision issues, please come see us.
Our experienced doctors will use advanced diagnostics to determine exactly how to help you see your very best, patiently answer your questions and carefully explain all your options.

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