What is Keratitis?
Keratitis is an inflammation of the cornea — the clear, dome-shaped tissue on the front of your eye that covers the pupil and iris. Keratitis may or may not be associated with an infection.
- Noninfectious keratitis can be caused by a relatively minor injury, by wearing your contact lenses too long or by a foreign body in the eye.
- Infectious keratitis can be caused by bacteria, viruses, fungi and parasites.
If you have eye redness or other symptoms of keratitis, make an appointment to see your doctor. With prompt attention, mild to moderate cases of keratitis can usually be effectively treated without loss of vision. If left untreated, or if an infection is severe, keratitis can lead to serious complications that may permanently damage your vision.
How To Recognize Keratitis
The first sign and symptoms of keratitis is usually eye pain, redness, and blurred vision. Your eye may burn or feel irritated, or it may feel like you have something in it. Signs and symptoms of keratitis include:
- Eye pain
- Eye redness
- Excess tears or other discharge from your eye
- Difficulty opening your eyelid because of pain or irritation
- Blurred vision
- Decreased vision
- Sensitivity to light (also called photophobia)
- A feeling that something is in your eye
Keratitis can cause permanent vision loss, so see your eye doctor right away if you have any of these symptoms.
Common Causes of Keratitis
Wearing contact lenses increases the risk of developing infectious and noninfectious keratitis, especially if slept in them. Do not wear contact lenses longer than recommended by your eye doctor. Follow the cleaning regimen and do not wear contact lenses while swimming, as the chemicals and microbes in the water can cause keratitis.
- Eye Injury—mechanical (scratch) or chemical (fumes or liquids splashed in the eye).
- Dry eyes.
- Overexposure to ultraviolet (UV) light, also called snow blindness.
- Viruses, most commonly Herpes Simplex.
- Conditions and medications that cause a reduced immune system.
When to See a Doctor for Keratitis
If you notice any of the signs or symptoms of keratitis, make an appointment to see your eye doctor right away. If you wear contact lenses, do not wear them until you find out what is wrong. Bring your contact lenses and contact lens case with you to the eye exam. Delays in diagnosis and treatment of keratitis can lead to serious complications, including blindness.
At your eye exam, your eye doctor will perform the following tests:
- History: Your eye doctor will take a medical history, identify any illness, and ask you about your symptoms before examining your eye.
- Visual acuity: This test will show how well you can see.
- Penlight exam: Your eye doctor may examine your eye using a penlight, to check your pupil’s reaction, size, and other factors.
- Slit-lamp: Your eye doctor uses a special microscope called a slit lamp. It shines a light into one eye at a time so the doctor can look closely at the outside and inside of the eye. Your eye doctor may apply a stain (fluorescein) to the surface of your eye, to light up any damage to your cornea.
- Laboratory analysis: Your eye doctor may swab under your eyelid to get a sample of tears or some cells from your cornea for laboratory analysis. The doctor might also swab your contact lens case as a separate sample for analysis. This will help to determine the cause of keratitis and develop a treatment plan for your condition.
How is Keratitis Treated?
- Noninfectious keratitis – A very mild case of noninfectious keratitis will usually heal on its own. For mild cases, your eye doctor may recommend that you use artificial tear drops. If your case is more severe and includes tearing and pain, you may need to use antibiotic eye drops to help with symptoms and prevent infection.
- Infectious keratitis – Treatment of infectious keratitis varies, depending on the cause of the infection.
- Bacterial keratitis: Depending on the severity of your infection, antibiotic eye drops may be used for mild cases. In moderate to severe cases, you may also need to take oral antibiotics treat the infection.
- Fungal keratitis: You would need to take antifungal eye drops and oral medication.
- Viral keratitis: You may need artificial tear drops, antiviral eye drops and/or oral antiviral medications.
- Acanthamoeba keratitis: This keratitis may be difficult to treat. You may be prescribed antibiotic drops. If you have a severe case, a corneal transplant may be needed.
Your eye doctor may also prescribe steroid eye drops (never with fungal keratitis) after your infection has improved or is gone. These drops help to reduce swelling and help prevent scarring. You should only use steroid eye drops under close supervision by your eye doctor because steroid eye drops can sometimes make an infection worse.
How to Prevent Keratitis
While keratitis can happen to anyone, here are some tips you can follow to help prevent its occurrence.
- Follow your eye doctor’s recommendations for taking care of your contact lenses
- Wash your hands and make sure they are completely dry before touching your contact lenses or your eyes
- Always use fresh solution to clean and store your contact lenses
- Wear proper eye protection if you are looking at intense UV light
- Keep the area where you store and keep your contact lenses and contact lens case clean and germ free
- Never store contact lenses in tap water
- Do not sleep in contact lenses when you are supposed to take them out every night
- Do not swim or shower in your contact lenses
- Replace your contact lenses and contact lens storage case as recommended