: To determine and correlate epithelial corneal thickness (pachymetric) measurements taken with a digital arc scanning very high frequency ultrasound biomicroscopy (HF UBM) imaging system (Artemis-II), and compare mean and central epithelial thickness among normal eyes, untreated keratoconic eyes, and keratoconic eyes previously treated with collagen crosslinking (CXL).
Methods: Epithelial pachymetry measurements (topographic mapping) were conducted on 100 subjects via HF UBM. Three groups of patients were included: patients with normal eyes (controls), patients with untreated keratoconic eyes, and patients with keratoconic eyes treated with CXL. Central, mean, and peripheral corneal epithelial thickness was examined for each group, and a statistical study was conducted.
Results: Mean, central, and peripheral corneal epithelial thickness was compared between the three groups of patients. Epithelium thickness varied substantially in the keratoconic group, and in some cases there was a difference of up to 20 µm between various points of the same eye, and often a thinner epithelium coincided with a thinner cornea. However, on average, data from the keratoconic group suggested an overall thickening of the epithelium, particularly over the pupil center of the order of +3 µm, while the mean epithelium thickness was on average +1.1 µm, compared to the control population (P = 0.005). This overall thickening was more pronounced in younger patients in the keratoconic group. Keratoconic eyes previously treated with CXL showed, on average, virtually the same average epithelium thickness (mean -0.7 µm, -0.2 µm over the pupil center, -0.9 µm over the peripheral zone) as the control group. This finding further reinforces our novel theory of the “reactive” component of epithelial thickening in corneas that are biomechanically unstable, becoming stable when biomechanical rigidity is accomplished despite persistence of cornea topographic irregularity.
Conclusion: A highly irregular epithelium may be suggestive of an ectatic cornea. Our results indicate that the epithelium is thinner over the keratoconic protrusion, but to a much lesser extent than anticipated, and on average epithelium is thicker in this group of patients. This difference appears to be clinically significant and may become a screening tool for eyes suspected for ectasia. Keywords: corneal pachymetry, ectasia, keratoconus screening, cornea epithelial thickness.