What Is Corneal Disease?
Corneal disease is any condition that affects the clear, outermost layer of the eye known as the cornea. The cornea lets light into the eye and helps it focus. Common conditions affecting the cornea include eye injuries, dry eye, corneal dystrophies and degenerations, corneal infections that cause keratitis (inflammation) and scarring.
Corneal disease has a wide range of causes, including:
- Scratches (abrasions) – this is the most common form of corneal trauma. Most scratches heal on their own but deeper injuries can cause scarring that impairs vision.
- Foreign bodies – the second most common form of corneal trauma is having a foreign body like metal or wood in the eye. The foreign body often becomes embedded in the cornea and causes irritation or infection.
- Dry eye – which causes the cornea to dry out and become irritated and inflamed.
- Environmental irritants, such as allergies and exposure to smoke
- Bacterial infections, often resulting from extended use of contact lenses
- Viral infections - such as herpes or shingles
Although various diseases affect the cornea differently, symptoms are often similar and may include:
- Irritation — Conditions such as dry eye can inflame the cornea, causing a breakdown of the corneal surface, itching or burning.
- Impaired vision — Scarring from corneal injuries or infections can cause blurry or distorted vision.
- Sensitivity to light — Scarring can lead to visual sensitivity and the appearance of glare or halos.
Treatment for corneal disease can be very different depending on the specific condition or injury. Treatment may include:
- Eye drops — Artificial tear solutions, or eye drops, are over-the-counter medications that supplement the eye’s natural tears to lubricate the cornea and reduce dryness and inflammation.
- Prescription medications — Certain antiviral or antibiotic medications may help treat infections in the cornea. These medications come in the form of eye drops or ointment that are topically applied to the eye.
- Eyeglasses or contact lenses — Prescription glasses or contacts correct blurry vision caused by corneal astigmatism due to scarring, but they can’t treat the underlying cause. Rigid gas permeable contact lenses may be used to correct impaired vision from a specific type of dystrophy known as keratoconus. These lenses mask the irregular shape of the cornea and act as a new refractive surface for the eye.
- Corneal transplant — Transplant surgery is a more advanced treatment option for corneal diseases and scarring. During a corneal transplant surgery, or keratoplasty, some of the cornea or the entire cornea is removed and replaced with part of or the whole cornea from a donor. Replacing the entire cornea is known as a full thickness corneal transplant, and it may take up to a year or longer to regain complete vision following this surgery. Corneal transplants are performed on an outpatient basis with frequent follow-up visits to check for signs of rejection of the new corneal tissue.
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