Corneal dystrophies are a group of eye disorders in which material accumulates in the clear, round cornea covering the eye’s iris and pupil. Left untreated, corneal dystrophy can cause significant vision problems and even blindness. In fact, corneal eye disease is the fourth leading cause of blindness, according to the World Health Organization (WHO). Fortunately, treatment for corneal dystrophies is highly effective at restoring vision.
There are more than 20 different forms of corneal dystrophies, according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology.
- Corneal dystrophy is a relatively rare genetic disorder, so it tends to run in families.
- Most types affect both eyes and grow progressively worse.
- Some types do not cause symptoms while other forms cause significant vision problems.
Treatment for Corneal Dystrophies
Treatment for corneal dystrophies always begins with an evaluation and diagnosis from an eye care professional. Eye doctors use slit lamp microscopes that shines a thin, bright sheet of light into the patient’s eye, allowing the doctor to examine the cornea thoroughly. People with a family history of corneal dystrophies should undergo evaluation from an eye care professional, even if the individual is not currently experiencing vision loss or other eye problems. Genetic testing is also helpful.
The type of treatment for corneal dystrophies depends largely upon the type of dystrophy and the severity of symptoms. Patients with corneal dystrophy who do not experience symptoms do not usually need treatment but instead require close monitoring by an eye doctor. Mild to moderate corneal dystrophies may respond favorably to eye drops, ointments or laser treatment. Severe corneal dystrophy may require advanced treatments, such as cornea transplant.
Many people with corneal dystrophy experience repeat corneal erosion, which is a breakdown of cells in the cornea. Treatment for that condition includes:
- lubricating eye drops
- special soft contact lenses that protect the cornea.
In some cases, corneal erosion may continue despite these treatments. Laser therapy and a technique for scraping the cornea can slow or stop this continued erosion.
A cornea transplant may be necessary to treat especially severe cases of corneal dystrophy. The medical name for the procedure is keratoplasty. During a cornea transplant, an eye surgeon can replace the entire cornea or just part of it. In a cornea transplant, an eye surgeon replaces the damaged or unhealthy cornea tissue with clear donor cornea tissue. In a partial cornea transplant, the surgeon replaces only one layer of the cornea. Cornea transplants are very successful for patients with poor vision and in cases where corneal dystrophy has inflicted a significant amount of damage.
Fuchs’ dystrophy is one form of corneal dystrophy that requires a partial cornea transplant, known as an endothelial keratoplasty. Fuchs’ dystrophy affects the cells on the innermost layer of the cornea, known as the endothelium. A healthy endothelium provides good vision by maintaining the right amount of fluid in the cornea. An unhealthy endothelium allows too much fluid to enter the cornea and cause corneal swelling and clouding. Fuchs’ dystrophy is progressive, causing a gradual decline in vision. As the condition progresses, blisters may form on the surface of the cornea.
Conservative treatment for Fuchs’ dystrophy includes eye drops that remove excess water from the cornea. Eye drops for glaucoma can reduce pressure inside the eye, as high pressure within the eye can damage the corneal epithelium and worsen Fuchs’ dystrophy. If blisters rupture to cause corneal abrasion or poor vision, a full cornea transplant is usually necessary.
Anyone who has a family history of corneal dystrophies should see an eye doctor for an evaluation and diagnosis. Early treatment can help slow the progression of corneal dystrophies and prevent vision loss. In many cases, treatment can restore vision lost to cornea dystrophy.
Contact Sealy Eye Center at (888) 701-7487 or schedule a free consultation online.