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Key facts

  • Keratoconus is an eye condition where the shape of your cornea slowly changes.
  • Symptoms develop slowly and may include blurred or distorted vision, light sensitivity and difficulty driving at night.
  • Causes of keratoconus are not fully known but a family history, some genetic conditions and allergic conditions that cause itchy eyes increase your risk of developing it.
  • Keratoconus is diagnosed by an ophthalmologist (eye specialist) who uses special instruments to look at the shape of your cornea.
  • Treatments include glasses, contact lenses or surgery. if your condition is severe.

What is keratoconus?

Keratoconus is an eye condition affecting your cornea, which is the transparent surface of your eye. Keratoconus occurs when your cornea slowly changes shape. It is normally shaped like a dome. With keratoconus, it thins and becomes cone-shaped. This affects the way your eyes focus light and causes distorted vision.

Keratoconus usually develops in younger people aged 16 to 30 years old, and progresses until you are about 40 years old. It affects both eyes. One eye may be worse than the other.

Learn more about how your eye works.

What are the symptoms of keratoconus?

If you have keratoconus, you may experience:

  • blurred or distorted vision — usually the first symptom
  • sensitivity to light and glares
  • halos around light sources making it difficult to drive at night
  • frequent changes to your glasses prescription, as the disease progresses

You may not have any symptoms during early stages of keratoconus, as they develop slowly and can be hard to detect.

CHECK YOUR SYMPTOMS — Use the Symptom Checker and find out if you need to seek medical help.

What causes keratoconus?

The exact cause of keratoconus is unknown. There are some genetic or environmental causes that increase your chances of developing keratoconus. These include:

When should I see my doctor?

If you are experiencing any vision changes, you should see your optometrist or ophthalmologist. You will need eye tests to check your vision and to examine your cornea.

If you have keratoconus, monitoring every 6 – 12 months is recommended.

FIND A HEALTH SERVICE — The Service Finder can help you find doctors, pharmacies, hospitals and other health services.

How is keratoconus diagnosed?

An eye specialist (ophthalmologist) can diagnose you with keratoconus by doing an eye test. They will use tools to take pictures of the front of your eye and look at the shape of your cornea.

Keratoconus can be difficult to diagnose in the early stages, as your doctor’s findings may also be associated with other eye conditions.

ASK YOUR DOCTOR — Preparing for an appointment? Use the Question Builder for general tips on what to ask your GP or specialist.

How is keratoconus treated?

There are many treatment options available, depending on how severe it is.

Options include:

  • eyeglasses or soft contact lenses (early stages)
  • progressed keratoconus — hard contact lenses or special lenses to stabilise the shape of your cornea
  • severe or worsening keratoconus — surgery, such as cornea transplant (keratoplasty) or corneal collagen cross-linking

Corneal collagen cross-linking

This is the only procedure that stops keratoconus progressing. It involves placing vitamin B2 drops into the cornea under ultraviolet A light, causing a chemical reaction. This strengthens and stiffens your cornea.

This procedure has risks and is not appropriate for everyone. One eye is treated at a time. You should not expect a reversal of vision loss. You can discuss whether this treatment is right for you with your ophthalmologist.

Corneal Transplant

During a corneal transplant, part or all of your cornea is removed, and a healthy cornea is transplanted. This may be offered if you have advanced keratoconus and other treatment options are not recommended. This surgery has very high success rates.

There is no cure for keratoconus. Treatment aims to slow down or stop the disease from worsening.

After surgery, you may still need glasses or contact lenses.

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Last reviewed: November 2023

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