Updated on  February 21, 2024
3 min read

Corneal Edema Symptoms, Causes, & Treatments

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Corneal edema is a condition involving the swelling of the eye’s cornea. The cornea is the transparent tissue layer of the eye that transmits and focuses light so you can see.

Three Main Layers of the Eye picture

Each layer of the cornea works in unison to capture light to enhance your vision. Hence, damage to the cornea can significantly impair your vision and affect the proper functioning of your eye. 

This corneal disease can cause vision problems such as blurred vision, halos around lights, and eye pain. While it usually occurs in people 50 or older, corneal edema can develop in anyone at any age. 

What Causes Corneal Edema?

The most common cause of developing corneal edema is fluid buildup in your eye. The cornea’s endothelium controls the build-up and release of fluid. 

You can damage the endothelium and develop corneal edema in several ways:

  • Fuchs’ endothelial dystrophy and posterior polymorphous corneal dystrophy (diseases that affects the endothelial cells)
  • Endotheliitis (an immune response to herpes)
  • Other endothelial dystrophies
  • Other eye diseases
  • Ocular trauma
  • Infections
  • Corneal transplant problems 
  • Eye surgery
  • Over-wearing contact lenses

Other common causes of corneal edema include:

  • Keratitis (inflamed cornea due to medical conditions like herpes simplex viral infections)
  • Certain medications
  • Wearing irritating contact lenses too often
  • Glaucoma
  • Eye surgery

What are the Symptoms of Corneal Edema?

Corneal edema can be uncomfortable due to corneal swelling and endothelial damage. You may also experience some or all of these symptoms if you have corneal edema:

  • Eye pain
  • Glare
  • Blurriness
  • Distorted eyesight
  • Seeing halos or rings around light
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Eye soreness
  • Scratching sensation in the eye
  • Blisters on the cornea (in severe cases)

Diagnosis of Corneal Edema

If you experience corneal edema symptoms, consult your ophthalmologist immediately so they can:

  • Conduct an eye exam to look at your cornea
  • Discuss your symptoms and medical history
  • Look out for any clouding of your cornea by using magnifying tools, such as slit lamps and ophthalmoscopes
  • Perform an ultrasound on your eye or measure your cornea’s thickness through pachymetry

If they diagnose you with corneal edema, your ophthalmologist will discuss treatment options.

Corneal Edema Treatment 

Fortunately, surgical and non-surgical options are available to treat corneal edema. Depending on your diagnosis, some surgical treatment options may include:

  • Corneal transplant
  • Lens implant exchanges (a dislocated lens implant may cause corneal edema)
  • Removal of vitreous materials or remaining lens materials after cataract surgery
  • Descemet Stripping Endothelial Keratoplasty (DSEK) to replace the corneal endothelium through a small incision

If your case isn’t severe, non-surgical treatment options may include:

  • Switching to a new type of contact lenses
  • Switching to glasses instead of contact lenses
  • Taking antiviral drugs (for herpes infections), beta-adrenergic blockers (or other glaucoma medications), or corticosteroids (to reduce inflammation)
  • Using ointments
  • Taking diuretics
  • Using hypertonic saline drops
  • Using prescription eye drops
  • Using a bandage contact lens
  • Practicing general eye care

Is Corneal Edema Serious?

Mild corneal edema may go away on its own if it isn’t too severe. It’s common in postoperative patients who’ve undergone eye surgeries and in people 50 and older.

Swelling in the cornea can go away with the right treatment. Depending on the severity of your diagnosis, untreated corneal edema can significantly affect your visual acuity.

There are both surgical and non-surgical options to treat corneal edema. Talk to your ophthalmologist about the best treatment option, given your diagnosis, budget, lifestyle, and other factors that could influence your decision.


Corneal edema is a condition that causes the cornea to swell. Various factors can cause it, but surgical and non-surgical treatment options are available. If you experience any symptoms of corneal edema, speak to your ophthalmologist to determine the best course of action.

Updated on  February 21, 2024
6 sources cited
Updated on  February 21, 2024
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  5. Sandhu, H. “Clinical Cases in Uveitis.” Science Direct, 2021.
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