A corneal ulcer is a condition that occurs when a person has an open sore on their cornea, the delicate tissue over the colored part of a person’s eyes.
A corneal ulcer is usually caused by an infection. A virus infection can also result in an ulcer. Fungal infections, tears in the cornea, conditions that causes dry eyes, and chemical burns may also cause an ulcer to appear. Some conditions, like Bells’ palsy, can cause the eyelid to not be able to close right. This can cause the cornea to become dry, which can lead to ulcers.
People who wear contact lenses commonly contract a bacterial infection that can lead to a corneal ulcer. Those contact lenses wearers who have the extended-wear brand are at a higher risk of developing a corneal ulcer. A contact lens can hurt the cornea in many ways if the wearer is not careful. For example, a scratch on the lenses can slightly irritate the cornea, in turn causing it to be more prone to a bacterial infection. Tiny bits of dirt and dust under the contact can also cause scratching of the cornea to occur. Those who wear their lenses for a long time may decrease the oxygen flow to the eye, making the wearer more apt to developing an infection; as a result a corneal ulcer may form. Any contact lenses that have been worn in the infected eye(s) should be thrown out so the eye(s) is not re-infected.
The symptoms of a corneal ulcer can be extremely painful. A patient suffering from an ulcer will feel that there is something in their eye, yet they cannot remove it. Itching, burning, redness, and swollen eyelids can occur. Pain may occur when a bright light is looked at, and the overall vision may be blurred. A thick discharge may also drain from the eye. Swelling may occur to the point of having difficulty opening the affected eye. Those who wear eyeglasses may have trouble seeing out of them.
A corneal ulcer may be treated at home first. Contact lenses should be taken out as soon as possible. Cold compresses can be applied directly to the eye. Do not rub or touch the ulcer or eye directly, and keep hands washed frequently. An over-the-counter pain reliever may help dull the pain. Acetaminophen can help, and ibuprofen can help with swelling.
Medical treatment should be sought if the condition worsens or does not go away within a day. Medical care should also be sought if there is a change in vision, discharge of the eye, a past history of cornea scratches, or an exposure to chemicals. An eye doctor will use a slit lamp to see if the problem is a corneal ulcer. If the doctor thinks an infection is the problem, samples may be taken to examine. Prescription antibiotic eye drops will then more than likely be given for the condition, since an infection has likely occurred. If the pain is very severe, an Ophthalmologist might prescribe an eye drop that keeps a person’s pupils dilated. While most corneal ulcers can be treated successfully, a corneal transplant may be a last resort. This will only be performed if the ulcer does not go away after medications have been taken for a time, or if there is a chance that it will perforate the cornea.