Keratoconus and other noninflammatory corneal thinning disorders (keratoglobus, pellucid marginal degeneration and posterior keratoconus) are characterized by progressive corneal thinning, protrusion and scarring; the result is distorted and decreased vision. The etiology and pathogenesis of these disorders are unknown but may be associated with a variety of factors, including contact lens wear, eye rubbing, Down's syndrome, atopic disease, connective tissue disease, tapetoretinal degeneration and inheritance. Recent advances in techniques for biochemical and pathological investigation are now allowing further exploration in these areas. Early diagnosis is aided by the finding of irregular corneal astigmatism with inferior corneal steepening. Treatment ranges from simple spectacle correction to keratoplasty. In this review, the past and present literature on corneal thinning disorders is reviewed and practical approaches to diagnosis and management are outlined.