A corneal dystrophy is when any layer or tissue within the cornea begins to weaken and break down, or when the cornea builds up a cloudy material, impairing vision.
While there are many kinds of corneal dystrophies, it is a relatively rare brand of disease, and less than one percent of all cases of blindness or partial-sightedness can be traced to a corneal dystrophy.
Though there are dozens of specific corneal dystrophies, most share many common elements, such as being hereditary, progressing slowly, affecting both eyes evenly, and not typically being caused by outside factors such as diet, exercise, climate conditions or pre-existing medical factors.
Fuch’s Dystrophy is a specific kind of corneal dystrophy, but represents an exception to many patterns found with other corneal dystrophies. Unlike most corneal dystrophies, Fuch’s Dystrophy is typically only recorded in the later stages of life, usually in the patient’s 50’s or 60’s, even though the disease may be present for decades because it is does not affect vision right away.
It is caused when cells in the innermost layer of the cornea begin to break down for no discernable reason. As a result, the cornea begins to absorb water, causing swelling which blurs vision. Many times, as the disease progresses the cornea will even develop blisters, and they can be very painful when they burst.
Treatment options for Fuch’s dystrophy include drops to reduce swelling, drying out the epithelial blisters, and even corneal transplants.
Herpes of the eyes, also known as ocular herpes, is caused by the same herpes simplex virus that is largely responsible for cold sores and fever blisters. It is the single most common infectious cause of corneal blindness in America.
Ocular herpes typically causes painful sores on the eyelid or cornea, and can eventually cause the cornea itself to inflame, which can lead to the breakdown and destruction of cells within the cornea, causing scarring and blindness. Though the virus itself never leaves the body, breakouts can be controlled and treated with prescriptions.
A pterygium is a pinkish-colored patch of tissue that grows on the cornea. Pterygia can potentially grow large enough to seriously obstruct vision, but this is a rare occurrence. More often, it is a cosmetic concern, since the pterygia can be seen when it becomes red and inflamed from dust or sunlight.
Eye lubricants are usually an effective treatment for smaller pterygia, since they reduce the swelling and redness, and thus their appearance. When they grow large enough to obstruct vision, however, surgery may be needed.