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Definition

What is corneal ulcer?

Your eye has two parts that focus images:

  • The cornea, the clear front surface of your eye.
  • The lens, a clear structure inside your eye that changes shape to help focus on objects.

The cornea is the window of your eye and permits light to enter the eye. Tears defend the cornea against bacteria, viruses, and fungi. A corneal ulcer is an open sore that forms on the cornea. It’s usually caused by an infection. Even small injuries to the eye or erosion caused by wearing contact lenses too long can lead to infections.

How common is corneal ulcer?

This health condition is extremely common. It can affect patients at any age. It can be managed by reducing your risk factors. Please discuss with your doctor for further information.

Symptoms

What are the symptoms of corneal ulcer?

The common symptoms of corneal ulcer are:

  • Red eye;
  • Severe pain;
  • Feeling that something is in your eye;
  • Watery eye;
  • Thick discharge draining from your eye;
  • Blurry vision;
  • Sensitivity to light;
  • Eye inflammation;
  • Swollen eyelids;
  • A white round spot on the cornea that is visible with the naked eye if the ulcer is very large.

All symptoms of corneal ulcers are severe and should be treated immediately to prevent blindness.

There may be some symptoms not listed above. If you have any concerns about a symptom, please consult your doctor.

When should I see my doctor?

You should contact your doctor if you have any of the following:

  • Change in vision;
  • Severe pain;
  • Feeling that there is something in your eye;
  • Obvious discharge draining from your eye;
  • History of scratches to the eye or exposure to chemicals or flying particles.

Causes

What causes corneal ulcer?

The main cause of corneal ulcers is infection. Bacterial infections are common in people who wear contact lenses. Viral infections are also possible causes of corneal ulcers. Such viruses include the herpes simplex virus (the virus that causes cold sores) or the varicella virus (the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles).

Fungal infections are an unusual cause of corneal ulcers and may happen after injury with organic material such as branches or twigs. People who contract this type of infection have been treated with steroid eye drops or are wearing contact lenses which are not properly disinfected.

Other causes of corneal ulcers include:

  • Dry eye. Disorders that cause dry eyes can leave your eye without the germ-fighting protection of tears and cause ulcers.
  • Eye injury. Tiny tears to the cornea may also cause corneal ulcers.
  • Inflammatory disorders.
  • Wearing unsterilized contact lenses.
  • Vitamin A deficiency.

People who wear expired soft contact lenses or wear disposable contact lenses for an extended period (including overnight) are at an increased risk of developing corneal ulcers.

Risk factors

What increases my risk for corneal ulcer?

There are many risk factors for corneal ulcer, such as:

  • Cold sores;
  • Chicken pox;
  • Wearing contacts lenses;
  • Trauma in the cornea.

Diagnosis & treatment

The information provided is not a substitute for any medical advice. ALWAYS consult with your doctor for more information.

How is corneal ulcer diagnosed?

Because corneal ulcers are a serious problem, you should see your ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in eye care and surgery).

  • Your ophthalmologist will be able to detect if you have an ulcer by using a special eye microscope, known as a slit lamp. To make the ulcer easier to see, he or she will put a drop containing the dye fluorescein into your eye.
  • If your ophthalmologist thinks that an infection is responsible for the ulcer, he or she may then get samples of the ulcer to send to the laboratory for identification.

How is corneal ulcer treated?

Your eye doctor will find the cause of the corneal ulcer, they can prescribe an antibacterial, antifungal, or antiviral eye medication to treat the underlying problem. If the infection is bad, your doctor may put you on antibacterial eye drops while they test the ulcer scrapings to find out the cause of the infection. In addition, you may have to use corticosteroid eye drops. Doctors normally prescribe these drops in cases where the eye is inflamed and swollen.

In severe cases, the corneal ulcer may warrant a corneal transplant. A corneal transplant involves the surgical removal of the corneal tissue and its replacement with donor tissue. This surgery may cause future health complications such as:

  • Rejection of the donor tissue;
  • Development of glaucoma (pressure within the eye);
  • Eye infection;
  • Cataracts (clouding of the eye’s lens);
  • Swelling of the cornea.

Lifestyle changes & home remedies

What are some lifestyle changes or home remedies that can help me manage corneal ulcer?

The following lifestyles and home remedies might help you cope with corneal ulcer:

  • If you wear contact lenses, remove them immediately.
  • Apply cool compresses to the affected eye.
  • Do not touch or rub your eye with your fingers.
  • Limit spread of infection by washing your hands often and drying them with a clean towel.
  • Take OTC pain medications, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol) or ibuprofen (Motrin).
  • Avoiding sleeping while wearing your contact lenses.
  • Cleaning and sterilizing your contacts before and after wearing them.
  • Rinsing your eyes to remove any foreign objects.
  • Washing your hands before touching your eyes.

If you have any questions, please consult with your doctor to better understand the best solution for you.

Hello Health Group does not provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.

Sources

Review Date: January 4, 2017 | Last Modified: January 4, 2017

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