Corneal Ulcers

Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors

A corneal ulcer is a lesion on the cornea that is usually causedby an infection. The cornea is the clear window on the front of the eye thatcovers the colored iris and pupil.

What is going on in the body?

Corneal ulcers generally form when the cornea is damaged in someway. The break in the cornea allows organisms to enter and cause an infection.The organisms may be a type of bacteria, virus, or fungus. Allergies or other eye conditions mayalso cause corneal ulcers.

What are the causes and risks of the infection?

Herpes simplexinfection is the most common cause of corneal ulcers in the UnitedStates. The virus that causes chickenpox and shingles can also cause corneal ulcers. Many times, bacterial orfungal infections lead to corneal ulcers.

Other causes ofcorneal ulcers include:

  • allergies
  • conjunctivitis, aninflammation of the clear covering of the white of the eye
  • contact lenses
  • Symptoms & Signs

    What are the signs and symptoms of the infection?

    Symptoms of a corneal ulcer include:

  • clouding of the cornea
  • eye pain
  • a feeling that there is something in the eye
  • redness of the eye
  • sensitivity to light
  • swelling of the eyelids
  • weeping with a possible discharge from the eye
  • Diagnosis & Tests

    How is the infection diagnosed?

    Diagnosis of a corneal ulcer begins with a medical history andphysical exam. A slit lampexam uses a microscope and a rectangular light source to examinethe cornea. Often, the cornea is stained with a dye called fluorescein.Scrapings from the cornea may be sent to a lab to determine if a fungus orbacteria is present.

    Prevention & Expectations

    What can be done to prevent the infection?

    People who wear contacts should clean them as directed and removethem when sleeping. Individuals should wear safety glasses to prevent injuryand contamination of the eyes in high-risk situations. Eye makeup and brushesshould not be shared. Effective treatment of allergies may prevent some corneal ulcers.

    What are the long-term effects of the infection?

    If corneal ulcers are not treated, the person may have corneal scarring,permanent visualimpairment, or even a hole in the cornea.

    What are the risks to others?

    A corneal ulcer is not contagious. However, an underlyinginfection may be spread from one person to another.

    Treatment & Monitoring

    What are the treatments for the infection?

    If the corneal ulcer is caused by bacteria, antibiotics may begiven. If the ulcer is serious, hospitalization and intravenous (IV)antibiotics may be necessary. Antifungal drops or oral pills can be used forfungal infections. For infection with herpes simplex or other viruses,antiviral eye drops or oral pills may be given.

    What are the side effects of the treatments?

    Medicines used to treat corneal ulcers may cause stomach upset,rash, allergic reactions,and other side effects.

    What happens after treatment for the infection?

    If treatment is started within hours of symptoms, the individual generally hasno permanent eye damage.

    How is the infection monitored?

    Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcareprovider.

    Article type: xmedgeneral