The 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:
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.
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.
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.
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.
This condition is inflammation of the cornea caused by infection following
an injury to the eye.
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.
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
- Extreme sensitivity to light
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.