Corneal Opacity

(Corneal Opacification; Cloudy Cornea)
  • Definition

    Corneal opacity is a disorder of the cornea. The cornea is the transparent structure on the front of the eyeball. Corneal opacity occurs when the cornea becomes scarred. This stops light from passing through the cornea to the retina and may cause the cornea to appear white or clouded over.
  • Causes

    Infection, injury, or swelling of the eye are the most common causes of corneal opacity.
  • Risk Factors

    The following factors increase your chance of developing corneal opacity:
    • Vitamin A deficiency
    • Measles—when measles result in scarring/infection of the eye
    • Foreign bodies striking the eye
    • Eye injury, whether from a force, such as a poke in the eye, or from a chemical agent
    • Herpes simplex virus—which can be transmitted to the eyes
    • Other infections, including conjunctivitis
    • Wearing contact lenses for a long period of time, especially overnight, can increase the risk of eye infections and also the chance of developing corneal opacity.
    • Keratoconus
    • Stevens-Johnson syndrome
    • Congenital corneal abnormalities
    Ocular Herpes
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  • Symptoms

    Symptoms include:
    • Vision decrease or loss
    • Pain in the eye or feeling like there is something in your eye
    • Eye redness, excessive tearing, or light sensitivity
    • Area on the eye that appears cloudy, milky, or is not completely transparent
  • Diagnosis

    Your doctor will ask about your symptoms and medical history. A physical exam will be done.
    To prepare for a complete eye exam, your doctor may put drops in your eyes to numb them and to dilate your pupils. Your doctor will use a specialized microscope to focus a high powered beam of light into your eye to examine the cornea and other structures in your eye.
  • Treatment

    Talk with your doctor about the best treatment plan for you. Treatments vary depending on the most likely cause of the scarring and how severe the scarring is. Treatments may include:
    • Eye drops containing antibiotics, steroids, or both
    • Oral medications
    In some cases, scar tissue may be removed surgically. The surgery may be performed using a laser, called phototherapeutic keratectomy (PTK), if the scarring is close to the corneal surface. In more severe cases, a cornea transplant may be necessary.
  • Prevention

    To help reduce your chance of developing corneal opacity, take the following steps:
    • Take care to avoid injuring the eye. Wear eye protection during any potentially dangerous activity. Make sure safety goggles are worn tight against the face, otherwise a foreign body can fly up under the goggles and injure the eye.
    • Take proper care of contact lenses. Follow your doctor’s recommendations regarding wear and cleaning them.
    • See your doctor right away if you think you have an eye infection, if you injured your eye, or if you develop any pain or change in vision.

    American Academy of Ophthalmology

    National Eye Institute


    Canadian Association of Optometrists

    Canadian Ophthalmological Society


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    Rangel TR. Sectoral keratitis and uveitis. Ocular Immunology and Uveitis Foundation website. Available at: . Accessed August 1, 2013.

    Wong AL, Weissman BA, Mondino BJ. Bilateral corneal neovascularization and opacification associated with unmonitored contact lens wear. Am J Ophthalmol . 2003;136(5):957-958.

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