A corneal ulcer is an open sore on the cornea–the clear, round “window” of tissue that allows light to enter the front of the eye. The surface of the cornea serves as a barrier to infections. When the surface of the cornea is damaged or compromised due to an injury, organisms may infect the cornea causing a corneal ulcer to form. A corneal ulcer is a serious condition that must be treated promptly to avoid lasting vision problems.
There are many causes of corneal ulcers. Contact lens wearers (especially soft contact lenses) have an increased risk of ulcers if they do not adhere to strict regimens for the cleaning, handling, and disinfection of their lenses and cases. Patients with severely dry eyes, difficulty blinking, and conditions that cause loss of sensation of the corneal surface are also at risk.
Other causes of ulcers include: herpes simplex viral infections, corneal abrasions and injuries.
- Red eye
- White spot on the cornea may be visible with the naked eye
- Light sensitivity
- Blurry vision
Corneal ulcers are diagnosed by careful examination. Special types of eye drops containing dye such as fluorescein may be used to highlight the ulcer, making it easier to detect.
If an infectious organism is suspected, the doctor may perform a culture. After numbing the eye with eye drops, cells are gently scraped from the corneal surface and tested to determine the infecting organism.
Corneal ulcers require frequent treatment with eye drops as some ulcers can lead to vision loss. If treatment is not given, blindness or even total loss of the eye can occur. If infections are stubborn or leave a scar, a corneal transplant may be needed to restore vision.