Eye Health Central

What is a Corneal Ulcer?

What is a Corneal Ulcer

Corneal Ulcer

A corneal ulcer, known medically as ulcerative keratitis, is an inflammation or infection of the cornea, the lens at the front of the eye that refracts light onto the retina. They are rather common, especially in people who wear contact lenses, work outdoors, or live in humid climates. They can be rather painful, cause severe redness, discharge, and reduced vision.

Almost all corneal ulcers begin with a bacterial infection on the surface of the eye. These types of infections are most common following an eye injury, or unsafe contact lens wearing practices. It's possible that corneal ulcers can stem from fungal infections, parasites, severely dry eyes, and even allergies.

Contact lens wearers that don't wear their contacts as instructed are particularly are susceptible to corneal ulcers. This includes wearing lenses longer than intended, not cleaning them before each application, not replacing them frequently enough, or wearing them while swimming or bathing. Any one of these actions increases the risk of introducing either foreign debris or micro-organisms to the surface of the eye, which can then cause damage and infection.

Anyone that suspects that they may have a corneal ulcer should seek medical attention from an eye care professional immediately. Failure to treat them quickly and properly can lead to permanent and irreversible damage to the eye, which can cause a drastic loss of vision, or even blindness.

Corneal ulcers caused by a bacterial infection can be treated with antibiotics. If caught quickly enough, the infection will subside, and the eye will be able to heal. If antibiotics aren't effective, then the source of the infection might be fungal or microbial in nature. Samples and cultures may need to be taken to determine the kind of infection that is present, and which type of treatment is needed.

Fungal infections are more common in patients that have had accidents involving plant life coming in contact with the surface of the eye, such as walking into a tree branch. Microbial parasitic infections often come from contact with dirt or soil, which can happen just as easily to some one who spends a lot of time out doors.

Anti-fungal medications can be administered, usually as both eye drops and pills. Chemically, they are very different than antibiotics, which are only effective against bacteria, however, functionally they will achieve a very similar result, assuming all goes well. The fungi will die off, and the body will attempt to heal he damage to the eye. If the damage was severe enough, it may not heal properly, and permanent vision loss may remain).

Author: John Dreyer Optometrist Bsc(Hons), MCOPTOM, DipCLP
Created: 10 Apr 2018, Last modified: 4 Mar 2020