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Corneal ulcers and infections

Bacterial keratitis; Fungal keratitis; Acanthamoeba keratitis; Herpes simplex keratitis

The cornea is the clear tissue at the front of the eye. A corneal ulcer is an open sore in the outer layer of the cornea. It is often caused by infection. At first, a corneal ulcer may seem like conjunctivitis, or pink eye.

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Corneal injury

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Causes

Corneal ulcers are most commonly caused by an infection with bacteria, viruses, fungi, or a parasite.

Corneal ulcers or infections may also be caused by:

Wearing contact lenses, especially soft contacts that are left in overnight, may cause a corneal ulcer.

Symptoms

Symptoms of infection or ulcers of the cornea include:

Exams and Tests

Your health care provider may do the following tests:

Blood tests to check for inflammatory disorders may also be needed.

Treatment

Treatment for corneal ulcers and infections depends on the cause. Treatment should be started as soon as possible to prevent scarring of the cornea.

If the exact cause is not known, you may be given antibiotic drops that work against many kinds of bacteria.

Once the exact cause is known, you may be given drops that treat bacteria, herpes, other viruses, or a fungus. Severe ulcers sometimes require a corneal transplant.

Corticosteroid eye drops may be used to reduce swelling and inflammation in certain conditions.

Your provider may also recommend that you:

Outlook (Prognosis)

Many people recover completely and have only a minor change in vision. However, a corneal ulcer or infection can cause long-term damage and affect vision.

Possible Complications

Untreated corneal ulcers and infections may lead to:

When to Contact a Medical Professional

Call your provider if:

Prevention

Things you can do to prevent the condition include:

Related Information

Erosion
Corneal injury
Immunodeficiency disorders
Allergies - overview

References

Aronson JK. Contact lenses and solutions. In: Aronson JK, ed. Meyler's Side Effects of Drugs. 16th ed. Waltham, MA: Elsevier B.V.; 2016:580-581.

Keenan JD, McLeod SD. Bacterial keratitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 4.12.

Keenan JD, McLeod SD. Fungal keratitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 4.13.

Lin A, Bouchard CS. Noninfectious keratitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 4.17.

Soukiasian SH. Peripheral ulcerative keratitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 4.16.

Tuli SS, Kubal AA. Herpes simplex keratitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2014:chap 4.15.

Yanoff M, Cameron JD. Diseases of the visual system. In: Goldman L, Schafer AI, eds. Goldman-Cecil Medicine. 25th ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Saunders; 2016:chap 423.

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Review Date: 8/28/2018  

Reviewed By: Franklin W. Lusby, MD, ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, CA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, Brenda Conaway, Editorial Director, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.

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