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Eye Health Center

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Corneal Opacities: Eye Disorders That Can Cause Vision Loss

Corneal Infection

Corneal infection, also called keratitis, is relatively rare. Several conditions can cause an infection of the cornea, including:

Conjunctivitis (pinkeye). Bacteria, viruses, or allergies can cause conjunctivitis. The condition usually causes only minor eye irritation. However, if it becomes severe or remains untreated, it can lead to corneal infection.

Contact lens-related infection. Most people wear contact lenses without any problems. However, the cornea can become infected with bacteria, viruses, fungus, and microbes due to improper use or cleaning of contacts.

Herpes zoster (shingles). This infection is caused by the same virus that causes chickenpox. In some people, the infection becomes active again later in life, causing a painful, blistering rash called shingles. Shingles that develop on the face, head, or neck can also affect the cornea. Forty percent of people who get shingles in those areas will develop it on the cornea.

Ocular herpes. Herpes of the eye is caused by the herpes simplex virus, the same virus that causes oral and genital herpes. Ocular herpes develops on the eyelid or surface of the eye and can lead to corneal inflammation. This virus is the most common eye infection that causes blindness in the U.S.

Depending on the cause, treatment for corneal infections may include:

  • Antibiotic, antibacterial, antifungal, or steroidal eye drops
  • Topical or oral antiviral medication
  • Phototherapeutic keratectomy (laser surgery)
  • Corneal transplant

Corneal Dystrophies

Corneal dystrophies are somewhat rare conditions that cause changes to the cornea. There are more than 20 corneal dystrophies. These eye problems are inherited. If someone in your family has one of these eye conditions, you may be at risk.

Corneal dystrophies usually affect both eyes and can cause vision loss and blindness. Sometimes they cause no symptoms and are only discovered during an eye exam. Here are a few of the more common types of corneal dystrophies:

Fuchs' dystrophy progresses slowly, usually affecting people in their 50s and 60s. The condition damages the endothelial cells in the cornea. Symptoms include swelling and blistering of the cornea, blurred vision, pain, and vision problems. Early on, drops, ointments, and special contact lenses may ease symptoms. At later stages, corneal transplants successfully restore vision.

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