Corneal Infections

The cornea is the front clear part of the eye which covers the iris and the round pupil.  When this layer is compromised or damaged, infection can gain access and cause a corneal infection or even an ulcer.  This is called keratitis.

Symptoms

Corneal infections/ulcers usually presents with redness of eye, eye pain, eyelid swelling, the sensation of having something in the eye, excessive tearing, pus or discharge, sensitivity to light or blurry or worsening vision.  A white area or spot may be noted on the front of the eye.

Causes

If the first layer of the cornea (epithelium) is damaged the cornea becomes vulnerable to infection by bacteria, viruses, parasites or fungi.  Recognising the infection early is critical to initiating treatment before permanent eye damage occurs.

Risk factors

Some factors that place you at risk for corneal infections/ulcers include:

  • Injury, abrasion or burns to the cornea: Scratches, scrapes and cuts from fingernails, makeup brushes or tree branches as well as chemicals can all cause trauma and damage to the cornea. Using appropriate protective eyewear when doing any work or play that may lead to an eye injury is important.
  • Contact lens wearers: appropriate lens handling, storage and cleaning is important to reduce the risk of infection.
  • The use of steroid eye drops
  • Dry eyes
  • Eyelid disorders that prevent proper functioning of the eyelid
  • A history of shingles or cold sores

Diagnosis

Your ophthalmologist will use a special microscope called a slit-lamp and a special stain called fluorescein to determine the extent of the damage.  If more information is needed a sample of the infection (called a corneal scrape) can be taken which is sent to the lab to determine the cause of the infection.

Treatment

Depending on the cause, antibiotic, antiviral or antifungal treatment will be prescribed.  This treatment can be in eyedrop, tablet form or both. Your ophthalmologist will then follow you up closely and monitor your response to treatment. Early evaluation and treatment is crucial and recommended to prevent any permanent damage to your eye and vision.

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