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What is Corneal Opacity?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 03, 2024
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Corneal opacity is a vision problem in which the cornea, the clear lens that covers the eye, does not let light pass completely through it as a result of disease or injury. When people experience this condition, their vision becomes obscured or clouded, and total vision loss can eventually be experienced. It is important to receive treatment for the problem, and not to wait if vision problems are identified. Prompt treatment increases the chance of a positive outcome.

A number of things can lead to corneal opacity, including eye injuries, disease processes such as ocular herpes, measles, or conjunctivitis, a vitamin A deficiency, or chronic irritation from poorly fitted contact lenses. Sometimes it can have a gradual onset, with damage occurring over an extended period of time, so that patients do not necessarily recognize what is happening until it has progressed quite far. People with this condition may start to notice fogging or clouding in their vision, or damage to the cornea may be identified during a routine vision exam.

If corneal opacity is identified, the first step in treatment is determining what caused the damage to the cornea. If the cause is an underlying disease process or an unaddressed issue such as contacts being worn too long, the medical professional and patient can work together to resolve the cause and hopefully arrest the vision damage. The cornea may be able to recover and heal once the cause has been addressed and the eye has a chance to start healing without the risk of reinjury.

In cases where the cause appears to be an event in the past, such as an injury to the cornea that caused scarring, eye drops may be prescribed to ease irritation and promote healing. Sometimes, this is enough to resolve the opacity, but in other cases, surgery may be recommended if basic treatment measures do not work. Surgery for a full replacement of the cornea can also be performed in severe cases.

A cornea transplant to address corneal opacity is usually regarded as a treatment of last resort after other methods have failed. In a cornea transplant, the patient receives a donor cornea from a cadaver, and he or she typically experiences the return of clear vision. For patients who have dealt with corneal scarring as an ongoing problem over an extended period of time, receiving a transplant can feel like getting an entirely new eye as the scarred and fogged cornea is replaced.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a TheHealthBoard researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By umbra21 — On Aug 22, 2012

This is why it's a good idea to go to the optometrist regularly once you get past a certain age, even if you think there's nothing wrong with your vision. You might still be perfectly capable of seeing most things, but a gradual creeping up of corneal damage can be impossible to detect.

And it might be the symptom of a disease that you didn't know that you had. Diseases like diabetes often go diagnosed for years before people get them treated and by then it's too late and there is massive damage to various parts of the body, including the eyes.

By indigomoth — On Aug 21, 2012

@gimbell - I know what you mean. I've always wanted to get laser eye surgery, which is also performed while you are awake, and I've always been too scared to go and get it done. The idea of being able to watch someone operating on my eye is just terrifying.

I do think there might be an option to be unconscious while you are having an eye operation however, as my grandfather had surgery on his cornea and they allowed him to be put out. It might have been because they thought the stress of the operation would be too much for an older man if he had to stay awake.

By gimbell — On Jul 10, 2011

I have seen some photos of corneal transplantation -- scary stuff! I know it's actually helping you, but eye surgery goes right along with dentistry as one of those medical practices I would rather not actually know much about.

I keep my eyes closed while at the dentist -- the less I know about which scary looking tools they're sticking in my mouth and why, the better. I hope I never need a cornea transplant, though, because obviously closing the eyes wouldn't be an option!

Is there an option to be unconscious for corneal transplantation? If there is, I'll sleep easier knowing that's what I'm going for if I ever need a cornea transplant.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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