What is Corneal Dystrophy?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon
Eyedrops may be used in the early stages of corneal dystrophy.
Eyedrops may be used in the early stages of corneal dystrophy.

Corneal dystrophy is a condition which causes the cornea, the clear lens which covers the eye, to cloud, causing obscured vision. A number of ophthalmological conditions can cause corneal dystrophy, with one of the most common example being Fuchs' Dystrophy, an inherited disease of the cornea. The best treatment for corneal dystrophy is usually a cornea transplant, in which the damaged cornea is replaced with a donor cornea from a cadaver.

The cornea allows light to enter the eye.
The cornea allows light to enter the eye.

The cornea is critical to vision. This thin lens has five layers: the surface epithelium, Bowman's layer, stroma, Descemet's layer, and endothelium. In someone with corneal dystrophy, damage occurs to one or more of these layers, causing it to thicken and cloud. As the damage progresses, the patient starts to experience a variety of vision problems, which can include sensitivity to light, blurred vision, and eventual blindness.

The cornea is critical to vision.
The cornea is critical to vision.

This condition usually has a slow onset. Close examination of the cornea can reveal clouding, spots, or lines in the damaged areas. Usually people experience glare and sensitivity to light in the earliest stages of corneal dystrophy, with problems being especially pronounced in the morning, and over time they develop more severe vision problems. They can also experience soreness and irritation of the eye, caused by dead cells which are not being flushed from the cornea as they normally would be.

Sensitivity to light and blurred vision are classic symptoms of corneal dystrophy.
Sensitivity to light and blurred vision are classic symptoms of corneal dystrophy.

In some cases, the cornea can actually ulcerate, which can contribute to the development of an infection. Corneal dystrophy generally appears in both eyes, although the severity can vary between the eyes. Most people end up seeking treatment for this condition, because the decline in vision quality becomes too frustrating or too dangerous.

Early stages of corneal dystrophy can be managed with eyedrops and medications which are designed to slow the degeneration of the cornea and keep the patient comfortable. Eventually, however, a corneal transplant will usually be required. In order to receive a transplant, the patient must be placed on the list of people needing placements, something which is best done as early as possible. In addition, he or she may have to satisfy certain requirements mandated by a transplant review committee to confirm that the transplant is necessary and appropriate.

In addition to occurring in humans, this condition is also common in dogs, with some breeds being more prone to developing it than others. A veterinarian can provide an appropriate course of treatment for a dog afflicted with corneal dystrophy; surgery is usually not necessary to treat this condition in dogs.

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

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

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Discussion Comments

muscianwife

@rlp17 - I'm not totally clear about the difference, but I do know that if people who have Fuchs corneal dystrophy have cataract surgery, it can make them have to have a cornea transplant faster.

I think it might be a difference of which layer of the cornea is affected. Like maybe cataracts are only clouding of the outer layer but corneal dystrophies affect one or more deeper layers. It is definitely something to look in to.

rlp17

I thought that this was what cataracts were. What is the difference, then between cataracts and corneal dystrophies?

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    • Eyedrops may be used in the early stages of corneal dystrophy.
      By: alco81
      Eyedrops may be used in the early stages of corneal dystrophy.
    • The cornea allows light to enter the eye.
      By: blueringmedia
      The cornea allows light to enter the eye.
    • The cornea is critical to vision.
      By: Subbotina Anna
      The cornea is critical to vision.
    • Sensitivity to light and blurred vision are classic symptoms of corneal dystrophy.
      By: Doreen Salcher
      Sensitivity to light and blurred vision are classic symptoms of corneal dystrophy.