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The cornea is the clear structure covering the colored area of the eye, known as the iris. A corneal ulcer causes the cornea to develop an open sore.
A bacterial corneal ulcer is very common for people who wear contact lenses. Most often, a corneal ulcer will develop when the cornea's surface becomes scratched, causing a bacterial infection to occur. The corneal scratch can occur when the lens is put into the eye or removed.
Bacteria can enter the scratch in a number of ways. When contact lenses are not cleaned properly, bacteria can become trapped under the contact lens which can then infect the scratch. Wearing extended-wear lenses increase the risk for developing a corneal ulcer.
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Symptoms of a Corneal Ulcer
Corneal ulcers produce a wide range of symptoms, including redness and eye pain. Other symptoms associated with a corneal ulcer include a thick mucus or pus discharge from the eye and feeling as though something is in the eye. It is not uncommon to experience blurred vision, sensitivity to light, and swelling of the eye lid. Often, there will be a visible white spot on the cornea. If these symptoms occur, it is essential to seek medical treatment.
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Diagnosing a Corneal Ulcer
Immediate treatment for a corneal ulcer is absolutely essential because if left untreated, the ulcer can spread to the rest of the eye. Permanent damage, such as vision loss can occur as well. To properly diagnose a corneal ulcer, an ophthalmologist will conduct an examination using an eye microscope. In order to see the eye more clearly, fluorescein drops will be added to the eye. In some cases, a sample of the ulcer may be taken for further analysis.
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Treatment for a Corneal Ulcer
If you suspect you may have a bacterial corneal ulcer, there are things you can do at home until you are able to see your ophthalmologist. Remove your contact lenses immediately and do not touch or rub your eyes. Apply a cool compress to the eye and take over-the-counter pain medications to relieve the pain.
To treat a corneal ulcer, antibiotic eye drops are often prescribed, which will need to be administered multiple times per day depending on the severity of the bacterial infection. In rare and severe cases of a corneal infection, surgery may be needed, known as a corneal transplant.
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Preventing a Corneal Ulcer
To prevent a bacterial infection from causing a corneal ulcer, make sure you wash your hands prior to touching your eyes. If you wear contact lenses, make sure you follow the proper hygienic and cleansing requirements. Never sleep with your contact lenses in your eyes and never use tap water to clean them. If you are exposed to small particles, wear eye protection to reduce the risk of the particles entering your eye.