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The cornea is the transparent, convex shield that protects the eye’s pupil and iris. It plays a key role in ensuring sharp vision by focusing incoming light on the retina. If the cornea is misshapen or becomes damaged, your eyesight will lose its clarity.
There are several conditions that can affect the health and integrity of the cornea. Keratitis is a painful infection that causes inflammation and can scar and otherwise damage the cornea. Treatments range from antibiotic eyedrops to corneal transplants in severe cases.
In addition, over 20 different types of inherited dystrophies can harm the cornea. Three of the most prevalent are described below.
Corneal dystrophies involve accumulation of opaque material in the cornea. The severity can vary widely with this condition, and may involve a high level of pain. In one variety, Fuchs’ dystrophy, loss of cells in the endothelium causes swelling of the cornea. This leads to blurred vision that progressively worsens. Granular dystrophy involves the growth of lesions on the inside of the eye. This interferes with vision and is sometimes painful.
Keratoconus is the most common dystrophy. With this condition, the middle part of the cornea thins and begins to bulge. The resulting cone-shaped cornea cannot precisely focus light on the retina. The condition can also cause scarring and swelling.
Patients who suffer from progressive keratoconus face the prospect of gradually dimming vision, as well as multiple corneal transplant surgeries to replace a thinning, cone-shaped cornea. One new treatment option, corneal crosslinking, repairs the cornea by stimulating collagen production in corneal tissue. Corneal crosslinking will typically not reverse the effects of keratoconus, but it is the only proven technique for stopping the disease’s progression. A corneal transplant is the only other treatment option.
Dry eye, also known as dry eye syndrome or keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is another chronic condition that can damage the cornea. It occurs when the eye’s meibomian glands stop working properly.
The fine layer of moisture on the surface of your eye protects sensitive tissues, lubricates eye movement and promotes clarity of vision. This layer is actually comprised of water, oil and mucus, and a deficiency in any of these three can lead to dry eye. The meibomian glands secrete oils that keep tears from evaporating quickly. When the function of these glands is interrupted, the result is evaporative dry eye. Because the watery surface is constantly dissipating, the eye often increases tear production in response.
Symptoms may include pain or a burning sensation in the eyes, itchiness, redness, light sensitivity and blurred vision. Patients may have a feeling that there is a small particle in the eye. This feeling of grittiness or sandiness is usually caused by dry spots, although corneal injuries can also generate the sensation. Both causes are sometimes related: Severe dry eye can cause perforation of the cornea, known as ulceration desiccation of the corneal epithelium. For contact lens wearers, excessive dry eye can also increase the chance of infection.
How to Schedule a Consultation
If you would like to learn more about the cornea and ways to treat and detect risks to its integrity, we invite you to schedule a personal consultation with an experienced ophthalmologist at our West Palm Beach or Jupiter office by contacting Mittleman Eye today.