A corneal infection is an infection of the transparent front part of the eyeball (the “cornea”) that allows light into the eye. Infections can be due to micro-organisms such as bacteria, fungus, parasites and viruses. Most corneal infections in Singapore are due to bacteria.
Symptoms and signs of a corneal infection include pain, redness and swelling, discharge, and blurring of vision. These usually occur suddenly and worsen over a few days, but may sometimes develop over weeks.
Contact lens-related infections are the most common cause of corneal infections in Singapore. Healthy contact lens wear can reduce the risk of infections. Healthy contact lens wear includes:
Corneal infections can also occur after eye trauma and injury. Many of these are seen in work site-related injuries and can be prevented with the appropriate use of safety goggles.
Corneal infections usually occur because of exposure to bacterial, fungal or other microbiological agents. Contact lens wear, associated with poor contact lens hygiene is the most common cause.
Apart from contact lens-related infections, corneal infections can also occur to eye injury, or due to pre-existing conditions or diseases of the cornea, e.g. cornea oedema.
A corneal infection may be suspected during the examination by an ophthalmologist. Samples of the micro-organism are obtained from gentle scraping of the corneal infection and sent for microscopic examination and culture. This will allow the doctor to identify the exact micro-organism and the type of medication it is sensitive to.
Corneal infections are usually treated with anti-infective eye drops and eye ointments. In the case of bacterial infections, antibiotic eye drops are prescribed. Patients with severe corneal infections may be admitted into hospital, to allow the eye drops to be applied intensively (sometimes every hour, and through the night) and for close monitoring of the infection.
Surgery may be needed for very severe corneal infections, especially if the infection is not responding to anti-infective eye drops. Even after the infection is cured, surgery may still be needed if the infection has resulted in corneal scarring and poor vision. Surgery is performed to remove the infected or scarred cornea and replace it with healthy corneal tissue (“corneal transplantation”).