Contact Lenses for Keratoconus

Glasses or soft contact lenses can suffice to correct for the mild astigmatism that appears in early keratoconus. As the condition progresses, these may no longer provide the patient with a satisfactory degree of visual acuity, and most optometrists will move to manage the condition with rigid contact lenses, known as rigid, gas-permeable, (RGP) lenses.

RGP Contact Lenses: RGP lenses provide a good level of visual correction, but do not arrest progression of the condition. In people with keratoconus, rigid contact lenses improve vision by means of tear fluid filling the gap between the irregular corneal surface and the smooth regular inner surface of the lens, thereby creating the effect of a smoother cornea. Many specialized types of contact lenses have been developed for keratoconus, and affected people may seek out both doctors specialized in conditions of the cornea, and contact lens fitters who have experience managing people with keratoconus. The irregular cone presents a challenge and the fitter will endeavor to produce a lens with the optimal contact, stability and steepness. Some trial-and-error fitting may prove necessary.

Hybrid Contact Lenses: Traditionally, contact lenses for keratoconus have been the 'hard' or RGP variety, although manufacturers have also produced specialized 'soft' or hydrophilic lenses and, most recently, silicone hydrogel lenses. A soft lens has a tendency to conform to the conical shape of the cornea, thus diminishing its effect. To counter this, hybrid lenses have been developed that are hard in the center and encompassed by a soft skirt. However, soft or earlier generation hybrid lenses did not prove effective for every person. Early generation lenses have been discontinued. The fourth generation of hybrid lens technology has improved, giving more people an option that combines the comfort of a soft lens with the visual acuity of an RGP lens.

Scleral lenses: Scleral lens Scleral lenses are sometimes prescribed for cases of advanced or very irregular keratoconus; these lenses cover a greater proportion of the surface of the eye and hence can offer improved stability. Easier handling can find favor with people with reduced dexterity, such as the elderly.

Piggybacking: Some people find good vision correction and comfort with a "piggyback" lens combination, in which RGP lenses are worn over soft lenses, both providing a degree of vision correction. One form of piggyback lens makes use of a soft lens with a countersunk central area to accept the rigid lens. Fitting a piggyback lens combination requires experience on the part of the lens fitter, and tolerance on the part of the person with keratoconus but can yield very satisfactory results.