What is Corneal Crosslinking Surgery?
Crosslinking is a minimally invasive treatment that involves applying drops of a vitamin solution (Riboflavin) to the cornea. The cornea will then be exposed to UV light, which activates the solution. The drops and light work together to make the bonds in the cornea stronger, with the goal of preventing further progression.
What Conditions Does Crosslinking Surgery Treat?
In conditions such as keratoconus, the links between corneal fibers are weakened, altering the cornea’s shape. Changing the shape of the cornea brings light rays out of focus. As a result, your vision is blurry and distorted, making daily tasks like reading or driving difficult.
Keratoconus can develop at any age and often affects both eyes, leading to very different vision between the two. Symptoms can differ in each eye, and they can change over time.
In the early stage, keratoconus symptoms can include:
- the mild blurring of vision
- slightly distorted vision, where straight lines look bent or wavy
- increased sensitivity to light and glare
- eye redness or swelling
In later stages, keratoconus symptoms often include:
- blurry and distorted vision
- increased nearsightedness or astigmatism, resulting in the need for new eyeglass prescriptions often.
- not being able to wear contact lenses as they may no longer fit properly and are uncomfortable.
To strengthen and stabilize the shape of your cornea, your doctor may recommend corneal crosslinking.
What to Expect with Corneal Cross-Linking
Corneal cross-linking is an outpatient procedure. Here’s what to expect:
- You will be given drops to numb your eyes.
- Your ophthalmologist first removes the thin, outer layer of the cornea (epithelium). This allows the medication to reach deeper into the cornea. You should not feel any pain due to the numbing drops.
- Eye drop medicine is applied to the cornea
- Next, a special device shines UV light at your cornea for close to 30 minutes. The light activates the riboflavin in the cornea. This helps form new bonds between the collagen fibers in your cornea.
- A bandage contact lens is placed over the eye. This helps the cornea heal. The bandage lens is left in place for about a week.
- Your ophthalmologist may give you antibiotics and steroid drops to help your eye heal.
After Corneal Cross-Linking
During the first week while your eye is healing, it’s important NOT to:
- touch or rub your eyes
- get water in your eye
- use eye makeup
- do heavy exercise
- be in places that are smoky or dusty
You may be given drops to use at home to help your eyes heal. Most people can get back to their normal daily activities within 1-2 weeks of cross-linking. Vision may take several months to fully stabilize, in this time your eyeglasses or contacts prescription will likely change.
While cross-linking does not make your existing corneal bulging and thinning go back to normal, the goal of treatment is to prevent keratoconus from getting worse. For some people, cross-linking prevents the need for more serious surgery, like a corneal transplant.