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Corneal Ulcer: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

What is a corneal ulcer?

A corneal ulcer caused by the formation of an open sore in the cornea. The cornea wraps around the iris and round pupil, much like a phone screen covers the internal mechanisms of a phone. An eye infection is usually the cause behind a corneal ulcer; however, other eye disorders can cause it as well.

What are the symptoms of corneal ulcer?

Symptoms of corneal ulcers include:

  • redness of the eye
  • pain or soreness of eye
  • feeling of object in eye
  • tearing
  • pus or other discharge
  • blurred vision
  • sensitivity to light
  • swelling of the eyelids

If you think you may have a corneal ulcer or have any symptoms, see your ophthalmologist immediately. Corneal ulcers can damage your vision and changes can be irreversible.

Who is at risk for corneal ulcer?

At risk people include:

  • contact lens wearers
  • those who’ve had cold sores, chicken pox or shingles
  • those who use steroid eye drops
  • those with dry eye
  • those with eyelid disorders
  • those who’ve injured or burnt cornea

If you wear contact lenses, proper use and cleaning of your lenses are essential steps to reduce your risk of a corneal ulcer.

What causes corneal ulcers?

You can prevent many causes of corneal ulcers. Such as using eyewear to prevent eye injury or take proper care of your contact lenses, if you use them.Corneal ulcers are often-times caused by the following infections:Bacterial infections: Common in those who wear contact lenses.Viral infections: Causes cold sores (the herpes simplex virus) and may cause recurring attacks triggered by stress, a weak immune system, or heavy exposure to sunlight. Also, the virus that causes chickenpox and shingles (the varicella virus) can be a causing factor of corneal ulcers.Fungal infections: Fungal infections can cause corneal ulcers. These infections are caused by improper use of contact lenses or steroid eye drops. Plant materials in the eye can also lead to fungal infections.Parasitic (Acanthamoeba) infections: When microscopic parasites enter the eye it can cause a bad infection, particularly for contact lens users. Other causes of corneal ulcers include: Abrasions caused by injury to the eye that can become infected by bacteria and lead to corneal ulcers. These injuries can happen from cuts, scratches, or burns. Eyelid disorders can cause the cornea to dry out, potentially developing an ulcer.

How is corneal ulcer diagnosed?

Your ophthalmologist will use fluorescein, a special dye, to light up any damage to your cornea. After this process, the cornea will be examined through a using a microscope which will allow your doctor to see if you have a corneal ulcer.If your doctor thinks the infection has been caused by a corneal ulcer, they may take a tiny tissue sample to properly treat the infection.

How is a corneal ulcer treated?

Antibiotic, antifungal or antiviral eye drops are usually prescribed over antifungal capsules or injections of the medication near the eye. Steroid or anti-inflammatory eye drops may reduce swelling and help prevent scarring. Pain medication orally may be prescribed to reduce pain.Surgical treatment: If corneal ulcers cannot be treated with medication, a healthy cornea given by a donor can be used as a transplant to replace a damaged cornea and restore vision.


A corneal ulcer is a sore in the cornea that may be open. It usually results from an eye infection. See your ophthalmologist immediately if you think you have a corneal ulcer, without treatment, permanent damage can occur. Eye drops or medication are usually used for treatment; however, a corneal transplant may be necessary to restore vision.

Corneal Ulcer: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment
Corneal Ulcer: Symptoms, Causes & Treatment

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West Boca Eye Center
9325 Glades Road, Suite 201.
Boca Raton, FL 33434

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