All about the cornea

Posted By Key-Whitman Eye Center || 14-Aug-2013

corneasmThe clear, protective outer layer of the eye is called the cornea. It contains no blood vessels to provide nutrients, so it must receive nourishment from tears and fluid in the eye. The cornea serves a few specific purposes, including protecting the eye by acting as a barrier against dirt, dust and germs that may harm it. It is also used to refract light as it enters the eye, helping the eye to focus on both distant and close-up objects. In order to properly refract light, the cornea must be clear.

Disease, infection and injury can damage the cornea, and may cause a significant reduction in vision. The term “corneal disease” refers to a variety of conditions including infections, degeneration and disorders of the cornea.

Conditions affecting the cornea

There are a variety of eye conditions that may damage the cornea. Some of these conditions include:

Allergies
Seasonal allergies may cause redness, tearing, burning, stinging and watery discharge from the eye, temporarily affecting vision. Antihistamine decongestant eye drops are most effective at treating eye allergies.

Pink eye
The medical term for pink eye is conjunctivitis. This eye condition can be caused by a viral or bacterial infection, allergy and other irritants. It is easily spread from one person to the next. If treatment of pink eye is delayed, it may cause inflammation in the cornea and can result in vision loss.

Corneal infection
A poke to the eye or a foreign object in the eye can lead to infection and/or painful inflammation of the cornea. Corneal infection can cause blurred vision, discharge and may even erode the cornea or cause permanent scarring, in which case a corneal transplant may be required to restore vision.

Dry eye
The cornea relies on tears for nourishment. If the eye is not producing enough tears, the cornea may not heal from wounds and can become infected. Artificial tears are the most common treatment for dry eye to ensure the eye receives proper nourishment and lubrication.

Keratitis
This condition is inflammation of the cornea caused by infection following an injury to the eye.

Keratoconus
A progressive disease of the cornea causing the cornea to become thin and change shape. Keratoconus changes the curvature of the cornea, causing astigmatism and nearsightedness. It can also lead to swelling and scarring of the cornea, sometimes resulting in vision loss. During early stages, vision can be corrected with eyeglasses or contact lenses, but may require a cornea transplant to replace the damaged cornea and restore vision. Prescription lenses may still be necessary.

Corneal dystrophies
These are hereditary conditions affecting the cornea. There are multiple forms of dystrophies, which cause structural problems with the cornea. Some common forms include mat-dot-fingerprint dystrophy, Fuchs’ Dystrophy and Lattice Dystrophy.

Signs and symptoms of cornea damage, disease or infection

If you experience any of these symptoms, it may be due to damage, disease or infection affecting the cornea. You should see your eye doctor immediately as they may be an indicator of a more serious problem. Common symptoms of problems with the cornea include:

  • Blurred vision
  • Pain
  • Redness
  • Tearing
  • Extreme sensitivity to light
  • Discharge

If you experience any of these symptoms, contact your eye doctor for an eye exam.

Preventing corneal conditions and diseases

Because many problems with the cornea are related to infection or injury, protecting the eye from injury and exposure to foreign objects is the best way to prevent corneal disease and infection. Avoid sharing eye makeup, contact lens solution, contact lens cases, or eye drops with someone who has a contagious form of conjunctivitis.

Hereditary dystrophies cannot be prevented, but early detection and treatment may prevent permanent vision loss. Routine eye exams are the best way to detect corneal conditions and diseases in the early stages, before vision is lost. Should your eye doctor suspect a problem with your cornea, Key-Whitman is pleased to offer Faisal Haq, MD, a cornea specialist who completed a fellowship in cornea disease and refractive surgery by the New York Ear and Eye Infirmary. If you are not currently receiving routine eye care, contact the eye doctors at Key-Whitman with offices in Dallas, Arlington and Plano to schedule your comprehensive eye exam today.

Categories: Eye Conditions
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