Have you noticed that your vision is becoming increasingly blurred? Are you experiencing pain in your eyes? Have your normal contact lenses stopped fitting correctly in one or both eyes? If so, do not ignore these symptoms, as they may be a sign of corneal disease. Contact New York City corneal surgeon Dr. Sandra Belmont for a consultation, so she can examine your eye health and let you know if you have a corneal disease.
Corneal Disease 101
The cornea is the clear window in the front of your eye. It transmits light to the interior of your eye, so you can see clearly.
Corneal disease is an umbrella term that describes any disorder that impacts your cornea. There are a number of types of corneal disease. The three principal types of corneal disease are keratoconus, bullous keratopathy and Fuchs’ dystrophy. In addition, some individuals suffer from pterygium, another disorder affecting the cornea.
Keratoconus. With keratoconus, the center of the cornea becomes increasingly thin and weak, leading to a cone-shaped abnormality in the cornea. This type of corneal disease can progress gradually, quickly or intermittently. Usually, keratoconus occurs in both eyes, but it is possible for it to develop in one eye only. As the cornea becomes increasingly cone shaped, wearing contact lenses may become difficult. Also, as the cornea steepens, those with the disease may experience increasingly blurred vision.
Bullous keratopathy. This type of corneal disease is characterized by a damaged endothelium, the thin layer of cells lining the inside of the cornea. A healthy endothelium pumps fluid out of the cornea. For individuals with bullous keratopathy, the damaged endothelium is not able to pump fluid out of the cornea properly. The result is that the cornea swells permanently, causing poor eyesight.
Fuchs’ (endothelial) dystrophy. This type of corneal disease is also characterized by a damaged endothelium that cannot pump fluid out of the cornea. However, individuals with Fuchs’ dystrophy inherited a hereditary defect of the endothelium, which causes the cornea to swell and become cloudy, ultimately leading to declining vision.
In the early stages of both bullous keratopathy and Fuchs’ endothelial dystrophy, individuals may initially notice a glare when looking at lights at night or in bright sunlight. As these corneal diseases advance, you may notice blurry or foggy vision in the morning that clears up as the day progresses. In the advanced stages of both these corneal diseases, individuals may experience blurry vision later into the day that may ultimately not improve at all.
Pterygium. Pterygium is characterized by a benign growth on the conjunctiva, or the lining of the white section of the eye. The growth may eventually extend into the cornea and start to cover the iris, or the colored section of the eye. If left untreated, pterygium can ultimately impair vision. Because one possible cause of pterygium is frequent sun exposure (which surfers often experience), the corneal disease is often referred to as “surfer’s eye.” Symptoms of surfer’s eye include: a lesion on the eye; a dry, itchy eye; irritation; inflammation; redness; tearing; and a decline in vision, in its more advanced stages.
Possible Causes of Other Corneal Diseases
Aside from the main types of corneal disease mentioned above, the following are other possible causes of corneal disease:
- The natural aging process
- Eye injury
- Viral, bacterial and fungal infections
- Using contact lenses
- Eye conditions such as vernal keratoconjunctivitis and retinitis pigmentosa
- Certain systemic diseases such as down syndrome and Leber’s congenital amaurosis
- Cataract surgery or another lens implant procedure, which in rare cases may cause bullous keratopathy
How Can I Tell If I Have Corneal Disease?
Some types of corneal diseases can be very painful while others only present mild symptoms, especially in the early stages of the disease. To determine with certainty if you have corneal disease, it is best to schedule a comprehensive eye exam with Dr. Belmont. She will evaluate your eye health and provide a diagnosis. If you have corneal disease, she will recommend an appropriate treatment option, which may involve the use of a device called PROKERA. The FDA-cleared PROKERA device can be described as a corneal bandage that uses stem cells to help reduce any inflammation and promote corneal wound healing.
To schedule an appointment with Dr. Belmont to find out if you have corneal disease, please contact Belmont Eye Center by calling (212) 486-2020.