Corneal Ulcer

Published: 2023-05-16

A corneal ulcer is an open sore on the cornea. It causes severe, painful symptoms and requires immediate medical attention to prevent the injury from worsening.


Corneal ulcers cause intense, debilitating symptoms. If you're diagnosed with this condition, you can expect:

  • Red, swollen eyes
  • Pus and eye drainage
  • A sensation that something is in your eye
  • A visible white spot if the ulcer is very large
  • Severe pain, particularly when looking at bright lights

If you're experiencing any of the above symptoms, don't hesitate to make an eye doctor appointment the very same day. In the meantime, remove your contact lenses immediately, apply a cool compress and avoid rubbing your eyes. If the pain is unbearable, take an over-the-counter pain medication, such as acetaminophen or ibuprofen.



The majority of corneal ulcers are caused by infections. Bacterial infections are a common cause, and people who wear contact lenses are at a higher risk for this form of corneal ulcer. Viral infections, such as the herpes simplex virus and the varicella virus (the virus behind the chickenpox and shingles) can also cause the condition. Though unusual, fungal infections can occasionally lead to corneal ulcers as well.


Tiny tears on the cornea due to trauma, scratches or particles in the eye result in damage that may make it easier for bacteria to cause an ulcer. Chemical burns can also injure the cornea, resulting in an ulcer.

Improper contact lens use

If you wear contact lenses, you're at a heightened risk of corneal ulcers, especially if you wear them overnight. Extended use can scratch the surface of your cornea, trap particles of dirt, and introduce harmful bacteria, resulting in corneal ulcers. In addition, extended use can prevent oxygen from reaching the cornea, increasing its susceptibility to infection.

Treatment options

Dr. Benjamin and Dr. Golchet will be able to tell very quickly if you have a corneal ulcer, simply by examining your eyes with a slit lamp, which is a special microscope. Once your diagnosis is confirmed, they will begin treating the underlying cause and restoring your optimal eye health. If they suspect that an infection is behind your ulcer, they will obtain samples from your eye. Based on the results of this examination, they will prescribe antibiotic eye drops, along with oral medication to control the pain.

In very advanced cases, the condition will not respond to medication and the ulcer may threaten to perforate the cornea. In these cases, a corneal transplant will likely be necessary. During the procedure, Dr. Benjamin or Dr. Golchet will cut through the cornea to remove the damaged tissue. They will then fit and place the donor cornea in the opening, before stitching it into place and completing the surgery.