What is Bacterial Keratitis?

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  • Written By: Mary McMahon
  • Edited By: Kristen Osborne
  • Last Modified Date: 13 July 2019
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Bacterial keratitis is an eye infection in the cornea with potentially very serious complications, as penetration of bacteria into the cornea can cause blindness in some cases. The condition typically onsets very rapidly, with patients experiencing pain, increased sensitivity to light, and excessive tearing in the involved eye. A rapid evaluation by an ophthalmologist is needed, as patients can experience vision damage in as little as 48 hours with particularly aggressive infections. Treatments are available, and there are more options if the condition is caught early.

A number of things can lead to bacterial keratitis. The most common is a tear or scratch in the cornea, with trauma frequently leading to this kind of damage. Patients who wear contacts frequently, have a history of eye disease, or have abnormally shaped eyelids may also be more at risk. Likewise, people recovering from eye surgery can experience bacterial keratitis. The involved eye may appear red in addition to weepy and the pain levels can vary, depending on how far the infection has penetrated.


The eye will be examined and the doctor may attempt to get a sample for analysis in the lab to learn more about what is causing the infection. In the meantime, to start addressing the infection, broad spectrum antibiotics will be prescribed. These are dropped directly into the eye and the patient may be given multiple drugs to use. If the sample is cultured and the organisms do not respond to the kind of antibiotics being used, different drugs can be prescribed.

Bacterial keratitis can eat into the cornea and may damage the eye significantly if it is not addressed. In some cases, patients may need surgery to flush the eye and repair damage. If surgery is required, it will be provided promptly to preserve as much eyesight as possible. After surgery, patients will be given detailed aftercare instructions to prevent further infection and identify the signs of complications if they do develop.

Symptoms like eye pain, increased light sensitivity, and tearing can also be associated with other vision problems. It is very important to get them evaluated, and if the symptoms persist during treatment, they should be discussed with the doctor to determine if there is a different underlying cause. While the eyes can be remarkably durable and elastic, once damage starts to occur, it is often irreversible and patients run a risk of losing their sight or developing a significant vision impairment if they do not treat ocular diseases like bacterial keratitis rapidly and appropriately.



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