Corneal ulcer symptoms, causes and treatments

A corneal ulcer is often the result of an eye infection, though severe dry eye and other eye conditions can cause them as well. These ulcers, also known as keratitis, are sores on the surface of the cornea – the outermost part of the eye.

What are common symptoms?

When diagnosing a corneal ulcer, Tower Clock Eye Center physicians thoroughly examine the patient’s eye. The most common symptoms of a corneal ulcer often include:

  • Eye pain and soreness
  • Eye redness
  • Foreign body sensation
  • Blurred vision
  • Excessive tearing
  • Fluid discharge
  • Light sensitivity

It is important to contact your eye doctor if you are experiencing any of these symptoms.

Tower Clock Eye Center - Corneal care

Who is at risk?

Corneal ulcers can cause severe damage to your eye and cause your vision to be permanently reduced. If you fall into any of the following categories, you are at increased risk of a corneal ulcer:

  • Contact lens wearers
  • Those with previously compromised corneas through injury
  • Those who use steroidal eye drops
  • People with consistent dry eye
  • Those with previous exposure to cold sores, chicken pox or shingles
  • People with eyelid disorders
What causes corneal ulcers?

There are several causes for corneal ulcers. Frequently they’re due to abrasions, burns or injuries to the cornea caused by any number of reasons. As mentioned before, those suffering from dry eye syndrome are especially susceptible.

For contact lens wearers, it’s important to handle your lenses with clean hands, and to be sure to store and clean your lenses properly. The use of protective eye wear when appropriate is also advised to prevent scratching or damaging the eye, that can lead to these ulcers.

On a smaller, more specific level, corneal ulcers are due to infections. There are several types of infections that lead to corneal ulcers:

  • Viral infections – the same type that causes cold sores
  • Bacterial infections – very common with extended wear contact lenses
  • Fungal infections – often afflict contact lens wearers and those using steroidal eye drops
  • Parasitic infections – small organisms introduced to the eye can cause infection
Corneal ulcer diagnosis

Diagnoses of corneal ulcer is usually done through a slit lamp exam. Your eye doctor uses fluorescein, a special dye, that highlights damage and imperfections on the cornea. If it is likely an infection has caused the ulcer, a tissue sample may be taken to better treat the cause of the infection.

Corneal Ulcer Treatment

For most corneal ulcers, eye drops are the most common treatment, with specific drops targeted for the type of infection. Eye injections and antiviral tablets are also prescribed to battle infection and, on occasion, your eye doctor may prescribe additional eye drops after the infections is gone to control any residual swelling and to help reduce scarring. If conditions such as continued blurry vision, excessive tearing or pain persist, contact your eye doctor.

Once the ulcer is healed and the infection is gone, it is not uncommon for a scar to remain causing blurred vision. Patients in this situation may have the options for a corneal transplant surgery as determined by an eye surgeon.


If you are susceptible to corneal ulcers or would like to learn more, call us at 920 499-3102 to schedule an appointment.


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