What You Should Know About Corneal Disease
The cornea, the eye’s transparent cover, refracts light, which enables the eye to see clearly. A healthy cornea is vital to good eyesight, so damage to the cornea can cause pain, sensitivity to light, blurriness, inflammation, headaches and vision loss.
Conditions and diseases harmful to the cornea include:
- Injuries and trauma
- Keratitis, an inflammation of the cornea resulting from an injury, bacteria, viruses, fungi, or parasites. (One form, neurotrophic keratitis, is a rare degenerative disease characterized by corneal numbness, thinning, ulceration and perforation.)
- Dry eye, resulting from the eyes not producing enough tears or tears of subpar quality
- Shingles, herpes and other viruses
- Iridocorneal endothelial syndrome, causing corneal swelling, glaucoma and changes in the iris
- Pterygium, a growth of tissue on the cornea
- Stevens-Johnson syndrome (erythema multiforme major), a serious skin disorder that also causes conjunctivitis, corneal blisters and erosions, holes in the cornea and painful blisters on the eyelids
- Corneal dystrophies (such as keratoconus, lattice corneal dystrophy, map-dot-fingerprint dystrophy and Fuchs’ dystrophy), which cause parts of the cornea to become cloudy starting in childhood
- Allergies and minor scratches
Lowering Risks to the Cornea
According to the National Institutes of Health’s National Eye Institute, you can lower the risk of corneal injuries by wearing protective eyewear while playing sports, doing yard work, working on home repairs, using machines and handling chemicals. You can prevent keratitis and other corneal infections by properly cleaning, disinfecting and storing your contact lenses.
Diagnosing Corneal Damage When It Does Occur
If you suspect you have sustained corneal damage of any kind, contact to examine for corneal abrasions and corneal diseases. This is important because many eye diseases have no early symptoms or warning signs. Indeed, having a dilated eye exam is important even if your eyes seem healthy.
Treating Corneal Diseases
Treatment options depend on the medical condition. They include:
- Eye drops and ointments
- Cenegermin, a medication for treating neurotrophic keratitis
- Oral antiviral medications
- Laser surgery to treat corneal erosions and dystrophies by reshaping and restoring the cornea
- Partial corneal transplant, in which one or two layers of the cornea are removed or are replaced by a layer from a donor
- Corneal transplant for some patients with keratoconus, severe corneal scarring, certain corneal dystrophies, edema after cataract surgery and any failure of the cornea after eye surgery
- Artificial cornea for those who cannot undergo a corneal transplant
One of the most common ways to treat corneal problems is with scleral contact lenses, which vault over the cornea and rest upon the sclera, the eye’s white surface. These customized lenses can help patients with corneal abrasions, diseases and injuries by protecting the cornea’s surface and keeping the cornea hydrated. Scleral lenses also allow the cornea to recover from a corneal transplant, and are the preferred treatment for keratoconus, severe dry eye and other conditions.