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inflammation of the cornea. It may be deep, when the infection causing it is carried in the blood or spreads to the cornea from other parts of the eye, or superficial, caused by bacterial or viral infection or by allergic reaction. Agents causing the inflammation can be introduced into the cornea during the removal of foreign bodies from the eye. All infections of the eye are potentially serious because opaque fibrous tissue or scar tissue may form on the cornea during the healing process and cause partial or total loss of vision. See also keratoconjunctivitis.
Causes. There are several kinds of keratitis. Dendritic keratitis is a viral form caused by the herpes simplex virus; it usually affects only one eye. Acute serpiginous keratitis is a bacterial form that may result from infection by pneumococci, streptococci, or staphylococci. Dendritic keratitis and certain other kinds may follow symptoms of upper respiratory tract infection, such as fever. Burns of the cornea, such as those produced by chemicals or ultraviolet rays, can also cause keratitis. In trachoma, a contagious disease of the conjunctiva, the eyes become inflamed, and small, gritty particles develop on the cornea. Herpetic keratitis may accompany herpes zoster. Interstitial keratitis is a type usually caused by congenital syphilis, appearing in children between ages 5 and 15; occasionally it may result from acquired syphilis. In rare cases it may result from tuberculosis or rheumatic infection in other parts of the body.
Symptoms. Symptoms vary somewhat among the different forms of keratitis, but pain, which may be severe, and photophobia (inability to tolerate light) are usual. There may also be considerable effusion of tears and a conjunctival discharge.
Treatment. Antibiotics are the usual treatment for keratitis caused by an infectious organism. Cortisone is used for other forms, but may be dangerous in some patients. Antiviral agents such as idoxuridine have been used to treat herpes simplex (dendritic) keratitis. In cases of syphilitic interstitial keratitis, the syphilis is treated. Congenital interstitial keratitis can be prevented if syphilis is detected early in pregnancy by means of blood tests and the mother is treated.
Inflammation of the cornea.