Jump to topic
A corneal ulcer is an open wound on your cornea, which is the transparent outer layer of your eye. The cornea is responsible for maintaining clear vision, which is why corneal ulcers are a potentially vision-threatening condition.
If you think you may have a corneal ulcer, see your eye doctor immediately. If left untreated, corneal ulcers can cause permanent scarring and vision loss.
Jump to topic
Most corneal ulcers are quite painful. Your cornea has the highest concentration of nerve fibers compared to any other part of your body. This means your cornea is incredibly sensitive, which is why ulcers cause so much pain.
Symptoms of corneal ulcers include:
There are infectious and non-infectious (sterile) corneal ulcers. The majority of ulcers come from bacterial infections, but there are several other causes as well.
Herpes zoster is the same virus that causes chickenpox and shingles. After infection, the virus stays dormant in your nerves and may reactivate later on in life. In addition to eye symptoms, herpes zoster can cause painful blisters on the forehead and nose on the same side as the affected eye.
Protecting your eyes and maintaining good eye hygiene is essential in reducing your risk for corneal ulcers. Here are some general tips for preventing corneal ulcers, particularly infectious types:
Your eye doctor can diagnose your corneal ulcer by examining your eyes under a microscope called a slit-lamp. They may instill a yellow dye called fluorescein into your eye. Then, your doctor views your eye with a special blue light. If there is a corneal ulcer, the dye will highlight the affected area. The ulcer will appear to glow under the blue light.
Treatment for a corneal ulcer focuses on treating the underlying cause of the ulcer. In general, you should not wear your contact lenses or use an eye patch while you have a corneal ulcer. Covering your eye does not help with the healing process.
If you are experiencing severe eye pain, your eye doctor may prescribe drops that dilate your pupils. These eye drops may provide some pain relief while your eyes are inflamed. In some cases, your eye doctor may add a steroid eye drop to decrease the chances of corneal scarring.
With corneal ulcers, most eye doctors will follow you closely over several days or even weeks, depending on the severity of the ulcer. These visits are essential to see if your condition is improving.
Kaiser, Peter K., and Neil J. Friedman. The Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary Illustrated Manual of Ophthalmology. Saunders, Elsevier, 2009.
Lambiase, Alessandro, and Marta Sacchetti. “Diagnosis and Management of Neurotrophic Keratitis.” Clinical Ophthalmology, vol. 8, 19 Mar. 2014, pp. 571–579., doi:10.2147/opth.s45921.
Lorenzo-Morales, Jacob, et al. “An Update on Acanthamoeba Keratitis: Diagnosis, Pathogenesis and Treatment.” Parasite, vol. 22, 18 Feb. 2015, p. 10., doi:10.1051/parasite/2015010.
Meek, Keith M. “Corneal Collagen—Its Role in Maintaining Corneal Shape and Transparency.” Biophysical Reviews, vol. 1, no. 2, 6 June 2009, pp. 83–93., doi:10.1007/s12551-009-0011-x.
Roat, Melvin I. “Peripheral Ulcerative Keratitis - Eye Disorders.” Merck Manuals Professional Edition, Merck Manuals, Aug. 2018, https://www.merckmanuals.com/professional/eye-disorders/corneal-disorders/peripheral-ulcerative-keratitis.
Shaheen, Brittany, et al. “Corneal Nerves in Health and Disease.” Survey of Ophthalmology, vol. 59, no. 3, 23 Jan. 2014, pp. 263–285., doi:10.1016/j.survophthal.2013.09.002.