Fuchs' corneal dystrophy is a slowly progressing disease that usually affects
both eyes and is slightly more common in women than in men. Although doctors
can often see early signs of Fuchs' dystrophy in people in their 30s and 40s,
the disease rarely affects vision until people reach their 50s and 60s.
Fuchs' corneal dystrophy occurs when endothelial cells gradually deteriorate
without any apparent reason. As more endothelial cells are lost over the years,
the endothelium becomes less efficient at pumping water out of the stroma.
This causes the cornea to swell and distort vision.
Eventually, the epithelium also takes on water, resulting in pain and severe
visual impairment. Epithelial swelling damages vision by changing the cornea's
normal curvature, and causing a sight-impairing haze to appear in the tissue.
Epithelial swelling will also produce tiny blisters on the corneal surface.
When these blisters burst, they are extremely painful.
At first, a person with Fuchs' dystrophy will awaken with blurred vision that
will gradually clear during the day. This occurs because the cornea is normally
thicker in the morning; it retains fluids during sleep that evaporate in the
tear film while we are awake. As the disease worsens, this swelling will remain
constant and reduce vision throughout the day.
When treating the disease, doctors will try first to reduce the swelling with
drops, ointments, or soft contact lenses. They also may instruct a person to
use a hair dryer, held at arm's length or directed across the face, to dry
out the epithelial blisters. This can be done two or three times a day.
When the disease interferes with daily activities, a person may need to consider
having a corneal transplant to restore sight. The short-term success rate of
corneal transplantation is quite good for people with Fuchs' dystrophy. However,
some studies suggest that the long-term survival of the new cornea can be a