A corneal ulcer, or ulcerative keratitis, is an open sore that develops on the surface of the eye. An infection causes inflammation of the cornea, and although a common condition, if left untreated can lead to serious, long term visual impairment.
What Causes a Corneal Ulcer?
The main cause of a corneal ulcer is a viral or bacterial infection. A range of bacteria can lead to corneal ulcer development, which is why it is so important for users of our online contact lenses to stick to a proper eye care routine. Eye conditions like corneal ulcers are one of the reasons why contact lenses need to be thoroughly sterilised regularly. One-day online contact lenses offer a more hygienic alternative, as they are discarded at the end of each day and replaced with a new sterile pair the next day.
Corneal ulcers can also be caused by chemical injury, as well as by a range of conditions that allow the eyes to be more exposed to bacteria, such as long term vitamin A deficiency, dry eyes, distichiae, where the eyelashes grow incorrectly, corneal dystrophy, and ectropion, which is an eye condition that causes the lower eyelid to turn outwards. If left untreated, ectropion can prevent the eyelids from closing properly, and can lead to the development of a corneal ulcer as the eye is insufficiently protected from bacteria, usually warded off by bacteria-fighting tears.
What is the Cornea?
If you imagine the eye as a camera, the cornea is the camera lens. It is the transparent outer lens at the front of the eyeball, through which you can see the pupil and the coloured iris. It is the cornea that bends light rays so that a visual picture of the world around you can be projected into the retina at the back of the eye, transmitting these images to the brain. Corneal ulcers can interfere with this process, preventing light from reaching the retina, causing distorted or cloudy vision. The inflammation caused by a corneal ulcer can also cause severe pain, and sensitivity to light.
Corneal Ulcers – the Symptoms
Left untreated, corneal ulcers can worsen, and leave you with serious and permanent eyesight problems. The earlier a corneal ulcer is detected, the easier it is to treat, so it pays to know the symptoms. If you find you’re experiencing any of the following symptoms, you should consult your GP:
- Persistently blurred vision
- Sensitivity to bright light
- Swelling of the eyelids
- Eye pain and/or eye redness
- Any pus or liquid draining from the eye
Corneal Ulcers – Treatment Options
The treatment of a corneal ulcer will depend on the both the cause, and the severity of the ulcer. Typically, a corneal ulcer will be treated with a course of antibiotics. A fungal corneal ulcer will require topical anti-fungal treatment, while viral corneal ulceration will require anti-viral treatment, typically in the form of an eye ointment. Pain medication may also be prescribed, often in the form of special eye drops to dilate the eye pupil.
Most corneal ulcers will heal up within a week, but deeper ulcers may require corneal surgery, special contact lenses, or a corneal transplant to correct the cornea and ease pain.