NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There was exciting news Tuesday, for people who have a serious eye condition that could lead to blindness.
The new technique could prevent the need for a cornea transplant, and as CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez explained, it could be as simple as eye drops.
Nearly 200,000 Americans have an eye problem called keratoconus. That’s when the cornea — the clear windshield front of the eye — gets progressively distorted until a transplant is the only way to prevent blindness.
Danielle Meacham was just a teenager when she started noticing that her eyesight wasn’t quite right.
“When you see someone walking past you and you say ‘who is that?’ You realize something is wrong here,” she said.
Danielle was developing a condition called keratoconus, where the collagen fibers in the cornea weaken and cause it to bow out forming a kind of cone. If special contacts don’t control the distortion.
“Ultimately the patients can get scarring which requires a cornea transplantation to see better, or blindness. Well, the blindness is from the scar,” Dr. Emily Waisbren said.
Danielle had a cornea transplant in her right eye, but her left eye isn’t as bad yet. She’s a good candidate for a new procedure called ‘corneal cross-linking.’
“The goal of the cross linking is to intervene prior to progression and to prevent the need for the cornea transplantation,” Dr. Waisbren said.
Dr. Waisbren of the New York Eye and Ear Infirmary of Mt. Sinai first cleared off the cells covering Danielle’s cornea, and then applied riboflavin eyedrops — that’s vitamin B-2.
The vitamin seeps into the cornea and then ultraviolet light is used to bind the vitamin and the collagen of the cornea, strengthening the cornea.
“By doing this you can prevent relaxation or slippage of those collagen fibers and can actually fix the cornea in its current shape,” she said.
Danielle hopes that the procedure will keep her left eye’s vision relatively normal even though her transplant is working beautifully.
“It’s like I’m seeing a whole new world, everything is clearer, and it feels different. it’s great,” Meacham said.
The vitamin cross-linking procedure is now FDA approved and is just starting to be done at eye centers around the country.
Anyone with keratoconus should be followed by and experienced cornea specialist so the procedure can be done before significant distortion takes place.