Corneal Dystrophy

Corneal dystrophy may not significantly affect vision in the early stages. However, it does require proper evaluation and treatment for restoration of optimal vision. Corneal dystrophies usually manifest themselves during the first or second decade but sometimes later. It appears as grayish white lines, circles, or clouding of the cornea. Corneal dystrophy can also have a crystalline appearance.

There are over 20 corneal dystrophies that affect all parts of the cornea. These diseases share many traits:
  • They are usually inherited.
  • They affect the right and left eyes equally.
  • They are not caused by outside factors, such as injury or diet.
  • Most progress gradually.
  • Most usually begin in one of the five corneal layers and may later spread to nearby layers.
  • Most do not affect other parts of the body, nor are they related to diseases affecting other parts of the eye or body.
  • Most can occur in otherwise totally healthy people, male or female.

Corneal dystrophies affect vision in widely differing ways. Some cause severe visual impairment, while a few cause no vision problems and are diagnosed during a specialized eye examination. Other dystrophies may cause repeated episodes of pain without leading to permanent loss of vision.

Diagnosis can be established on clinical grounds and this may be enhanced with studies on surgically excised corneal tissue and in some cases with molecular genetic analyses. As clinical manifestations widely vary with the different entities, corneal dystrophies should be suspected when corneal transparency is lost or corneal opacities occur spontaneously, particularly in both corneas, and especially in the presence of a positive family history or in the offspring of consanguineous parents.

Early stages may be asymptomatic and may not require any intervention. Initial treatment may include hypertonic eyedrops and ointment to reduce the corneal edema and may offer symptomatic improvement prior to surgical intervention. Suboptimal vision caused by corneal dystrophy usually requires surgical intervention in the form of corneal transplantation. Penetrating keratoplasty, a common type of corneal transplantation, is commonly performed for extensive corneal dystrophy.

With penetrating keratoplasty (corneal transplant), the long term results are good-excellent. Recent surgical improvements have been made which have increased the success rate for this procedure. However, recurrence of the disease in the donor graft may happen. Superficial corneal dystrophies do not need a penetrating keratoplasty as the deeper corneal tissue is unaffected, therefore a lamellar keratoplasty may be used instead.

Phototherapeutic keratectomy (PTK) can be used to excise or ablate the abnormal corneal tissue. Patients with superficial corneal opacities are suitable candidates for a this procedure.