Understanding the Possible Causes of Keratoconus

Keratoconus can significantly affect your vision and quality of life. If you suffer from this condition, your eyes will not be able to refract light properly. In turn, you could suffer from a host of symptoms, including nearsightedness and astigmatism. Dr. Andrew Holzman can diagnose and explain the causes of keratoconus during a consultation at his Washington, D.C., area practice. Scientists are not sure of the exact reasons for the disorder. Many speculate it results from genetics, environment, hormones, or a combination of factors. Whatever the cause of keratoconus, Dr. Holzman will recommend an appropriate and effective course of treatment so that you can enjoy clear vision and full range of activities.

A Basic Overview of Keratoconus

Your cornea is located in the outer layer of your eye. Made of clear tissue, it has a dome-like shape and is primarily comprised of a protein called collagen. The cornea is responsible for refracting light as it enters your eye. A properly functioning cornea will bend light so that it focuses in the center of your retina, found at the back of your eye. Then your optic nerve can transmit a proper signal to your brain, which will register the signal as an image.

Side-by-side illustration of a normal cornea compared to one with keratoconus

If you suffer from keratoconus, the collagen fibers have begun to break down, and your cornea has grown thinner. As a result, your eye can no longer bend light correctly. Resulting symptoms can include astigmatism, blurred vision, difficulty with night vision, and light sensitivity.  

Factors That May Lead to Keratoconus

Researchers continue to investigate the reasons for keratoconus, but the exact cause is unknown. Nevertheless, most scientists speculate that the following factors may contribute to the development of keratoconus.


An estimated 10% of patients with keratoconus also have a family member with the condition. However, not all scientists agree that there is a genetic component, since the majority of patients do not have a similar family history.

Environment and Overall Health

Many doctors agree that eye rubbing will increase the risk for keratoconus, if not cause it directly. Poorly fitted contact lenses can chafe and damage the eye, leading to rubbing. This is one reason that it is so important to visit an experienced ophthalmologist for corrective lenses. Allergies can also cause patients to rub their eyes forcefully, which could damage the corneas. Studies show that keratoconus patients are more likely to suffer from allergies, including hay fever, food allergies, and eczema. Other health problems, such as Down syndrome, Ehlers-Danlos syndrome, and retinitis pigmentosa can increase the risk of keratoconus.

Problems with the Eyes Themselves

Keratoconus may also be due to problems with the make up and function of the eyes. Research shows that some individuals lack normal structural tissue in their eyes. Therefore, the corneas are more likely to protrude outward and take on a conical shape. Additionally, keratoconus corneas are not able to self-heal. In response to minor damage, such as the injuries from vigorous rubbing, the eye will produce free radicals. Eyes with keratoconus will not be able to flush out those molecules. As they build up, they will cause additional damage.


Keratoconus often begins at puberty and worsens during pregnancy. Therefore, some scientists speculate that hormonal changes can lead to the condition. Nevertheless, this theory is hotly debated and requires additional research.

Contact Us for More Information

Our practice offers safe, comfortable, and advanced treatments for keratoconus and other eye conditions. To learn more about the possible causes of keratoconus and to Dr. Holzman’s treatments, contact us today.

Dr. Andrew Holzman

Andrew E. Holzman, MD, FACS

Andrew E. Holzman, MD, FACS, is one of the most well-respected ophthalmologists in the greater Washington, DC, area. He is regularly sought out by professional athletes, media personalities, and other doctors for laser eye surgery. Dr. Holzman is a member of several prestigious organizations, including:

  • The American Academy of Ophthalmology
  • The American College of Surgeons
  • The American Society of Cataract and Refractive Surgery
  • The American Medical Association
  • The International Society of Refractive Surgery

To schedule a consultation at one of our five locations, please fill out our online form or give us a call at (703) 556-9155.

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