Corneal Ulcer: Care Instructions

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Parts of the eye, including the cornea on the front of the eye

Your Care Instructions

The cornea is the clear surface that covers the front of the eye. It directs and focuses light onto the lens of the eye.

When the cornea is inflamed, injured, or infected, a sore can form. The sore is called a corneal ulcer. It is very painful and can make the eye red, hard to open, and sensitive to light. The sore may feel like something is caught in your eye.

Corneal ulcers can be caused by infection. They can also be linked to problems with the immune system. Wearing contact lenses raises your risk for corneal ulcer, especially if you wear them while you sleep.

To see if you have a corneal ulcer, your doctor looks at your eye with dye on it and tests your vision. If your doctor needs to learn what kind of infection to treat, he or she may also take a tiny sample of tissue for testing.

Your doctor may start treating your eye with antibiotic eyedrops or ointment right away. This is because infection with bacteria is a common cause of corneal ulcer. If tests show that you have another kind of infection, your doctor will change your medicine.

A corneal ulcer is serious. Without prompt treatment, you could lose vision in your eye. Be sure to follow your doctor's care instructions. Your doctor may send you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist).

Follow-up care is a key part of your treatment and safety. Be sure to make and go to all appointments, and call your doctor if you are having problems. It's also a good idea to know your test results and keep a list of the medicines you take.

How can you care for yourself at home?

  • Use the prescribed eyedrops or ointment as directed. At first, this may be every 1 to 2 hours. Be sure the dropper or bottle tip is clean. To put in eyedrops or ointment:
    • Tilt your head back, and pull your lower eyelid down with one finger.
    • Drop or squirt the medicine inside the lower lid.
    • Close your eye for 30 to 60 seconds to let the drops or ointment move around.
    • Do not touch the ointment or dropper tip to your eyelashes or any other surface.
  • Do not use your contact lens in your hurt eye until your doctor says you can.
  • Wear sunglasses to help relieve pain from bright light.
  • Be safe with medicines. Read and follow all instructions on the label.
    • Ask your doctor if you can take an over-the-counter pain medicine, such as acetaminophen (Tylenol), ibuprofen (Advil, Motrin), or naproxen (Aleve).
    • If the doctor gave you a prescription medicine for pain, take it as prescribed.
  • See your doctor for checkups as often as scheduled. At first, this may be daily to make sure your eye is healing.

When should you call for help?

Call your doctor now or seek immediate medical care if:

  • You have new or worse eye pain.
  • You have symptoms of an eye infection, such as:
    • Pus or thick discharge coming from the eye.
    • Redness or swelling around the eye.
    • A fever.
  • You have vision changes.
  • It feels like there is something in your eye.
  • Light hurts your eye.

Watch closely for changes in your health, and be sure to contact your doctor if:

  • You do not get better as expected.

Where can you learn more?

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The Health Encyclopedia contains general health information. Not all treatments or services described are covered benefits for Kaiser Permanente members or offered as services by Kaiser Permanente. For a list of covered benefits, please refer to your Evidence of Coverage or Summary Plan Description. For recommended treatments, please consult with your health care provider.