Corneal Diseases – How to Spot Them

The cornea is the front part of the eye. It is transparent and covers the iris and pupil. A lot of people don’t realise is that the cornea is also responsible for refracting light, constituting to about two thirds of the eye’s optical power, the majority of refraction happens, of course, by the lens.

The cornea is made from very sensitive tissue. It is transparent, however, if it is removed or a person dies, it becomes opaque. For transplants, the whole eye is removed to prevent this from happening.  To restore any damage, the cornea is placed in a warm chamber, allowing for fluids to leave the tissue. The cornea is generally pretty good at healing itself, for example when a small bit of dirt scratches the surface. However, there are a number of more serious afflictions could require medical attention.

Corneal Diseases

A microbial infection happens when the cornea is scratched or damaged and fungi or bacteria are able to penetrate the surface. This can be very painful, cause reduced vision and sometimes result in a discharge. Treatment with anti-biotic or anti-fungal eye drops will mostly fix any infections.  Sometime a patient will be prescribed a stronger treatment. Such an infection must not be confused with conjunctivitis, which affects the protective membrane under the eye lid.  Conjunctivitis is infectious, but easily healed. More severe infections can lead to the infection of the cornea and lead to loss of vision.

Ocular herpes is a sore that appears on the surface of the cornea. It is related to the virus that causes cold sores – so, if you have a cold sore and wear contact lenses take special care to wash your hands thoroughly. Ocular herpes is incurable but it can be controlled. Do not, however, use steroid eye drops, this makes the virus multiply and the infection will get worse. Shingles can also infect the cornea. As the virus travels through the nerve endings it causes rashes and lesions. For those affected on the face, some experience infection of the cornea. Anti-viral treatment will stop the chance of infecting the deep tissue. Infection can also happen months after the initial episode, so follow-up appointments are important.

The cornea can be altered without the presence of disease, infection or inflammation.  These rare conditions are knownas dystrophies.  Examples include keratoconus, where the cornea thins in the middle and bows out to the side forming a cone shape, or lattice dystrophy, which is where abnormal protein fibres build up in the cornea. It is important to visit your optician at least every two years so they can check for any complications. If you should require surgery to correct any of these problems, don’t worry. It is common, and well-practiced. Once the operation is complete, the patient will usually be provided with some dark glasses to shield their eyes for a while. The hospital prescription glasses look like some kind of 1980s nightmare, so we suggest you bring along something a little more stylish, like Tom Ford or Oakley sunglasses. Hey, there’s no reason you cant look good after surgery!

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