What is the cornea?

The cornea is the eye’s outermost layer. It is the clear, dome-shaped surface that covers the front of the eye and protects it from dirt, germs, and other harmful particles. It also functions like a window that controls and focuses light entering the eye. For you to see clearly, light rays must be focused by the cornea and lens to fall precisely on the retina.

What are some common diseases and conditions of the cornea?

The cornea is vulnerable to a variety of diseases and conditions. Some common conditions include:

  • Fuchs’ dystrophy
  • Keratoconus
  • Corneal dystrophies
  • Corneal infections
  • Pterygium

How are these diseases and conditions treated?

At Eye Associates of Colorado Springs, our cornea specialist offers some of the most advanced treatments available.

Treatment for Fuch's dystrophy: Fuchs' dystrophy is a disease that usually affects both eyes and causes a gradual decline in vision due to corneal edema (swelling) and clouding. Depending on the stage of the disease, Fuchs' dystrophy is treated with:

  • 5% sodium chloride (hypertonic) eye drops that remove excess water from the cornea
  • Glaucoma eye drops to reduce your intraocular pressure
  • Surgical methods, including a cornea transplant (also called penetrating keratoplasty or PK) if it’s progressed to the point of causing significant vision loss, or DLEK which is an alternative to PK designed to replace only the bottom most layer of the cornea

Treatment for keratoconus: Keratoconus is a progressive eye disease that leads to distorted vision when the normally round cornea thins and begins to bulge into a cone-like shape. Treatment may involve various types of specialized contact lenses or surgical methods, which include:

  • Intacs (tiny plastic inserts are placed just under the eye's surface to re-shape the cornea)
  • Corneal crosslinking (strengthens corneal tissue to halt bulging of the eye's surface)
  • Corneal transplant

Treatment for corneal dystrophies/degenerations: Corneal dystrophies can cause pain as well as blurring and distortion of vision. They come in a variety of forms. Some of the most common include:

  • Epithelial basement membrane dystrophy (EBMD): This is a condition where the topmost layer of the cornea loses its normal clarity due to a buildup of cloudy material. Treatment depends on the severity of the condition and may include the application of a lubricating ointment, a soft contact lens (SCL), or surgical methods, such as Intacs.
  • Salzmann nodular degeneration (SND): SND is a slowly progressive condition in which bluish-white nodules are raised above the surface of the cornea. These may cause a loss of clarity and a chronic foreign body sensation. It is treated with either medical management (eye lubrication, steroid eye drops, warm compresses, and proper eyelid hygiene) or surgical removal of the nodular lesions.

Treatment for corneal infections: Corneal infections can reduce visual clarity, produce corneal discharges, lead to corneal scarring, and sometimes even erode the cornea. Corneal infections may include bacterial ulcers, Herpes, and Shingles, to name only a few. If the exact cause is not known, you may be given antibiotic drops that work against bacteria. If it is known, you may be given specialized drops that treat bacteria, herpes, other viruses, or a fungus. Corticosteroid eye drops may be used to reduce swelling and inflammation. Severe ulcers sometimes require a corneal transplant.

Treatment for pterygium: While not technically a corneal condition, pterygium involves the growth of pink, fleshy tissue over the white surface of the eye. In some cases, it may only cause a foreign body sensation. In others, this growth may become inflamed and require medical treatment, or it may grow over the pupil reducing visual clarity. It is treated with:

  • Lubricating eye drops or ointments
  • Vasoconstrictor eye drops
  • Steroid eye drops
  • Surgical removal of the growth (an outpatient procedure)

For details on corneal diseases and conditions not listed above or for more information about your treatment options, we welcome you to call our office to schedule an appointment, or simply request an appointment online.