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Keratoconus is a progressive disease affecting millions of people throughout the world and hundreds of thousands in the United States. Patients suffer from a debilitating distortion of the cornea that can severely impair vision. Symptoms include blurred and distorted vision, night blindness, unstable glasses or contact lens prescriptions, and increased sensitivity to bright lights and glare.

As keratoconus progresses, the shape of the cornea gradually changes from a symmetrically round shape into an irregularly shaped cone. The cornea begins to thin and bulge outward. Tiny fibers within the cornea that hold the shape become weaker, allowing this distortion to progress, and the vision to worsen.

This degenerative eye disease typically starts in young patients in their 20s and can be inherited. As the cornea is largely responsible for correctly focusing light into the eye, this progressive change in keratoconus patients causes the cornea to become distorted, resulting in significant loss of vision. Traditional treatment ranges from rigid contact lenses for mild disease, to surgical transplantation of the cornea in advanced disease.

Now a new non-surgical technology known as Corneal Crosslinking offers hope for better treatment.

Jayson Edwards, M.D., of the Zion Eye Institute in St. George, is the leading expert on corneal disease and surgery in southern Utah. He is the only fellowship-trained corneal specialist between Salt Lake City and Las Vegas.

“Until recently, treatments (for keratoconus) consisted of methods to help maintain adequate vision while the disease continued to progress,” Edwards said. “None of these therapies are able to stop the progression of the disease. Corneal Crosslinking is a new, advanced technology that provides the first and only treatment aimed at stabilizing the underlying weakness of the cornea and stopping the progression of keratoconus.”

First introduced in 1998 in Germany, Corneal Crosslinking has been extensively researched and studied. Since 2006 it has been widely used and accepted in more than 400 clinical centers in Europe. It was first brought to the United States in 2008 and is currently in FDA Clinical Trials.

It is now being offered in a small number of clinical centers in the United States including the Zion Eye Institute, which was was recently recognized as one of the top 50 eye surgery centers in the nation.

Corneal Crosslinking utilizes an eye drop containing riboflavin (Vitamin B2) and an ultraviolet light source applied to the cornea over an approximately 30-minute period. This increases the molecular bonds between collagen fibers in the cornea, thereby increasing the rigidity and mechanical strength of the corneal tissue. This additional strength stabilizes the cornea allowing it to maintain a more normal shape and resist progressive degeneration.

After Corneal Crosslinking, many patients are able to maintain good vision with contact lenses or glasses and avoid developing advanced disease which could lead to corneal transplantation. This new treatment may also be beneficial for patients suffering from other forms of corneal instability, such as after laser vision correction with LASIK or PRK, or corneal dystrophies and other degenerative corneal changes.

Dr. Edwards is the only Fellowship trained Cornea Specialist in St. George, Mesquite and Cedar City. This technology is being offered exclusively at Dixie Ophthalmic Specialists at Zion Eye Institute. For information, call 435-656-2020.