Corneal Ulcer

A deep erosion in the cornea, the transparent front part of the eye

  • Wearing contact lenses is a risk factor
  • Age, gender, and genetics are not significant factors

An eroded area in the cornea, the transparent outer part of the front of the eye, is known as a corneal ulcer. These ulcers can be very painful and, if left untreated, may cause scarring and lead to permanently impaired vision, blindness, or even loss of the eye. People who wear contact lenses are at increased risk of corneal ulcers.

What are the causes?

Corneal ulcers may be caused by an eye injury, an infection, or a combination of both. A relatively small injury, such as a corneal abrasion, can develop into a corneal ulcer if the damaged area becomes infected. A more severe injury, such as that caused by a caustic chemical, can produce an ulcer in the absence of infection. However, an ulcer that becomes infected may enlarge and penetrate more deeply into the cornea. Only rarely do infections cause corneal ulcers without prior injury. The most common of these infections are herpes zoster, known as shingles, and herpes simplex infections.

What are the symptoms?

If you have a corneal ulcer, you may experience the following symptoms:

  • Intense pain in the eye.

  • Redness and discharge from the eye.

  • Blurred vision.

  • Increased sensitivity to light.

With an untreated infected ulcer, the infection may spread and permanently impair vision and cause damage to the eye itself. You should consult a doctor immediately if you develop a painful, red eye together with blurred vision.

What might be done?

The doctor may place fluorescein eyedrops in the affected eye and examine it under blue light with a slit lamp (see Slit-lamp examination). He or she may also take a swab to identify the cause. If the dye reveals an ulcer, you may be given antibiotic or antiviral eyedrops to treat the infection (see Drugs acting on the eye). Even severe ulcers usually clear up within 1–2 weeks of treatment, but they can leave scars that permanently affect vision.

Corneal ulcer

Fluorescein eyedrops placed in this eye revealed an ulcerated cornea. These ulcers are due to a herpes simplex infection.

From the 2010 revision of the Complete Home Medical Guide © Dorling Kindersley Limited.

The subjects, conditions and treatments covered in this encyclopaedia are for information only and may not be covered by your insurance product should you make a claim.

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