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The eye’s cornea is a clear layer of tissue that protects some of the internal structures and helps to focus incoming light. Changes to the shape of the cornea can be detrimental to visual clarity.
Several conditions impact the health 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.
A corneal dystrophy refers to a progressive condition — often inherited — in which the cornea loses its transparency due to a buildup of abnormal material. Two of the most prevalent are described below.
Fuch’s Corneal Dystrophy
The cornea has five primary layers. Fuchs’ dystrophy affects the endothelium layer, which is responsible for pumping fluid out of the central layers of the cornea. In this condition, endothelial cells die off, which can lead to corneal swelling and cloudy or hazy vision. Depending on the stage of the disease, vision may be blurry only upon waking in the morning (and slowly improving throughout the day) or persistently blurry all day.
Keratoconus is the most common dystrophy. With this progressive condition, the cornea, which is usually round like a basketball, gradually thins and bulges into a more oblong shape like a football. This distortion interferes with the cornea’s focusing abilities and causes a decline in visual acuity. Severe cases of keratoconus can cause corneal scarring and require corneal transplant surgery.
Corneal crosslinking has been shown to delay the progression of keratoconus and possibly reduce or eliminate the need for more invasive treatment later on. During a corneal crosslinking treatment, the doctor administers a combination of riboflavin drops and ultraviolet light directly to the eye, which strengthens the collagen that holds the cornea together. By reinforcing the cornea, corneal crosslinking can stop or slow down the thinning and distortion that occurs with keratoconus.
Dry eye, also known as keratoconjunctivitis sicca, is an ocular surface disease that can be harmful to the cornea. Many cases occur when the meibomian glands in the eyelids are blocked and cannot function properly.
The eye’s tear film plays an important role in lubricating the eyes and promoting clear vision. The tear film is comprised of three layers: oil, water and mucus. The oily layer, which is produced by the meibomian glands, is responsible for helping tears “stick” to the ocular surface. If the glands become obstructed by thickened oil deposits, they cannot secrete oils into the tear film, and the tears evaporate too quickly. This condition is called evaporative dry eye.
Evaporative dry eye symptoms include the following:
- Burning or itching of the eyes
- Red eyes
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurry vision
- A “foreign body sensation” – i.e., the feeling of a piece of dirt or debris stuck in the eyes
A healthy tear film is important for ocular health. Severe cases of dry eye that are left untreated can lead to complications affecting the cornea. For example, a chronic lack of moisture can cause inflammation and ulcers to form on the cornea. Also, untreated dry eye can increase the risk of eye infections.
How to Schedule a Consultation
To learn more about the cornea and ways to treat and detect risks to its integrity, request a consultation at our West Palm Beach or Jupiter office by contacting Mittleman Eye today.