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Corneal Ulcer: Causes, Symptoms, and Treatment Options

Corneal ulcers are a common eye condition characterized by an open sore on the cornea, the clear front surface of the eye. This condition can be painful and may lead to vision loss if left untreated. Understanding the causes, symptoms, and available treatment options for corneal ulcers is essential for prompt and effective management.


Corneal ulcers can be caused by various factors, including:

  1. Infection: Bacterial, viral, fungal, or parasitic infections can invade the cornea, leading to ulcer formation. Contact lens wearers are particularly susceptible to microbial infections if proper hygiene and lens care practices are not followed.

  2. Injury or trauma: Corneal abrasions resulting from scratches, foreign objects, or chemical burns can create a pathway for bacteria to enter and cause an ulcer.

  3. Dry eyes: Insufficient tear production or poor tear quality can lead to corneal drying and damage, making the cornea more susceptible to infection and ulceration.

  4. Eyelid disorders: Conditions like blepharitis (inflammation of the eyelids) or eyelid malposition, such as ectropion or entropion, can disrupt the normal protective functions of the eyelids, increasing the risk of corneal ulcers.


The symptoms of a corneal ulcer may vary depending on the severity and underlying cause. Common signs and symptoms include:

  1. Eye pain: Corneal ulcers often cause significant eye pain, ranging from mild discomfort to intense throbbing or sharp pain.

  2. Redness and inflammation: The affected eye may appear red and inflamed due to the body's immune response to the infection or injury.

  3. Eye discharge: Discharge from the eye, which can be watery, thick, or purulent, is a common symptom associated with corneal ulcers.

  4. Blurred vision: The presence of an ulcer on the cornea can disrupt the smoothness of its surface, leading to blurred or hazy vision.

  5. Sensitivity to light: Photophobia, or sensitivity to light, is a typical symptom of corneal ulcers. Bright lights may cause discomfort and increased tearing.

  6. Foreign body sensation: Many individuals with corneal ulcers report feeling as though there is something foreign or gritty in their eye.


Timely and appropriate treatment is crucial for corneal ulcer management. Depending on the severity and underlying cause, treatment options may include:

  1. Medications: Topical antibiotics, antivirals, or antifungals are typically prescribed to combat the infection associated with corneal ulcers. In some cases, corticosteroid eye drops may be used to reduce inflammation and promote healing.

  2. Pain management: Analgesic eye drops or oral pain medications may be recommended to alleviate the discomfort and pain associated with corneal ulcers.

  3. Bandage contact lens: A therapeutic contact lens can be placed over the cornea to protect the ulcer and promote healing. This lens acts as a protective barrier and reduces pain.

  4. Eye patching: In certain cases, patching the affected eye may be necessary to promote healing and prevent further injury.

  5. Treatment of underlying conditions: If a corneal ulcer is caused by an underlying condition such as dry eyes or eyelid disorders, addressing and managing those conditions is essential for effective treatment and prevention of recurrence.

  6. Surgical intervention: In severe cases or when there is a risk of vision loss, surgical procedures like corneal transplantation may be considered.


Taking steps to prevent corneal ulcers is essential, particularly for individuals at higher risk. The following preventive measures can help reduce the likelihood of developing corneal ulcers:

  1. Practicing good hygiene: Wash hands thoroughly before handling contact lenses or touching the eyes. Follow proper contact lens care and cleaning procedures.

  2. Avoiding eye trauma: Wear protective eyewear during activities that pose a risk of eye injury. Avoid rubbing or scratching the eyes.

  3. Proper management of underlying conditions: If you have dry eyes, eyelid disorders, or other eye conditions, follow your doctor's recommendations for treatment and management.

  4. Regular eye exams: Routine eye examinations can help detect any early signs of corneal ulcers or underlying conditions, allowing for timely intervention.

Corneal ulcers are a potentially serious eye condition that requires prompt attention and appropriate treatment. By understanding the causes, recognizing the symptoms, and following preventive measures, individuals can reduce the risk of corneal ulcers and maintain healthy eyesight. If you experience any symptoms suggestive of a corneal ulcer, consult us for a comprehensive evaluation and personalized treatment plan.

David Greening David Greening, ABOC, BS(HONS) Ophth. Dispensing David is our resident optician, and has been in optics since 2002. He attained his Bachelor of Science degree in Ophthalmic Dispensing in Kent, England (2014). He has extensive experience, having managed his own practice for many years prior to arriving at Astorino & Associates Eye Center. He is a licensed American optician (ABOC) and is well-recognized for his quality of service, attention to detail, and patient care.

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