Overview, Causes, & Risk Factors
A corneal ulcer is a lesion on the cornea that is usually caused
by an infection. The cornea is the clear window on the front of the eye that
covers the colored iris and pupil.
What is going on in the body?
Corneal ulcers generally form when the cornea is damaged in some
way. The break in the cornea allows organisms to enter and cause an infection.
The organisms may be a type of bacteria, virus, or fungus. Allergies or other eye conditions may
also cause corneal ulcers.
What are the causes and risks of the infection?
infection is the most common cause of corneal ulcers in the United
States. The virus that causes
shingles can also cause corneal ulcers. Many times, bacterial or
fungal infections lead to corneal ulcers.
Other causes of
corneal ulcers include:
inflammation of the clear covering of the white of the eye
Symptoms & Signs
What are the signs and symptoms of the infection?
Symptoms of a corneal ulcer include:
clouding of the cornea
a feeling that there is something in the eye
redness of the eye
sensitivity to light
swelling of the eyelids
weeping with a possible discharge from the eye
Diagnosis & Tests
How is the infection diagnosed?
Diagnosis of a corneal ulcer begins with a medical history and
physical exam. A slit lamp
exam uses a microscope and a rectangular light source to examine
the cornea. Often, the cornea is stained with a dye called fluorescein.
Scrapings from the cornea may be sent to a lab to determine if a fungus or
bacteria is present.
Prevention & Expectations
What can be done to prevent the infection?
People who wear contacts should clean them as directed and remove
them when sleeping. Individuals should wear safety glasses to prevent injury
and contamination of the eyes in high-risk situations. Eye makeup and brushes
should not be shared. Effective treatment of allergies may prevent some corneal ulcers.
What are the long-term effects of the infection?
If corneal ulcers are not treated, the person may have corneal scarring,
impairment, or even a hole in the cornea.
What are the risks to others?
A corneal ulcer is not contagious. However, an underlying
infection may be spread from one person to another.
Treatment & Monitoring
What are the treatments for the infection?
If the corneal ulcer is caused by bacteria, antibiotics may be
given. If the ulcer is serious, hospitalization and intravenous (IV)
antibiotics may be necessary. Antifungal drops or oral pills can be used for
fungal infections. For infection with herpes simplex or other viruses,
antiviral eye drops or oral pills may be given.
What are the side effects of the treatments?
Medicines used to treat corneal ulcers may cause stomach upset,
rash, allergic reactions,
and other side effects.
What happens after treatment for the infection?
If treatment is started within hours of symptoms, the individual generally has
no permanent eye damage.
How is the infection monitored?
Any new or worsening symptoms should be reported to the healthcare