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Corneal ulcer

A corneal ulcer is a painful sore on the clear thin covering of the eye.

These are more likely to affect people who wear contact lenses and are often caused by infections.

Having a corneal ulcer may feel like there's something in the eye and you may be more sensitive to bright light.

Left untreated, a corneal ulcer can lead to permanent vision problems.

Corneal ulcer causes

Causes of corneal ulcers include:

  • Bacterial infections
  • Viral infections, including herpes zoster that causes shingles
  • Fungal infections
  • Eye injuries and small scratches on the eye's surface.


Corneal ulcer symptoms

Symptoms of corneal ulcers include:


Examinations and tests

Seek medical advice if you suspect you have a corneal ulcer.

An optometrist or ophthalmologist will diagnose the condition based on the symptoms and an examination with a slit lamp after putting fluorescein drops in the eye.

A swab sample may be taken for laboratory testing to determine the cause of the ulcer.


Treatment for a corneal ulcer will usually be with antibiotic or antiviral eye drops.

If contact lenses are usually worn, use glasses instead until the corneal ulcer heals.

A cool compress, like a damp cold flannel, may help with the symptoms.

Try not to touch, rub or irritate the eye.

Make sure hands are washed often to help stop spreading the infection to the other eye.

Painkillers, such as paracetamol or ibuprofen, may help with the pain from the corneal ulcer.

Hospital treatment may be needed if the problem is severe and a corneal transplant procedure may be needed in severe cases.

With the correct treatment, corneal ulcers should improve within 2 to 3 weeks.

After seeing an eye specialist for the corneal ulcer, get back in touch or seek medical advice if symptoms or pain worsen.


Corneal ulcers cannot always be prevented, but taking good care of the eyes, looking after contact lenses and cleaning and using them correctly and avoiding eye injuries can help reduce the chances of getting a corneal ulcer.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on September 23, 2016

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