All About Corneal Ulcers and Contact Lenses

The cornea, a transparent dome-shaped surface covering the front of the eye, plays a crucial role in vision. However, various factors, including contact lens wear, can lead to complications such as corneal ulcers. Here, we delve into what corneal ulcers are, their causes, and the specific risks associated with wearing contact lenses.


Photo by Karolina Kaboompics

What are Corneal Ulcers?

A corneal ulcer is an open sore or lesion that forms on the cornea. It can be caused by infection, injury, or underlying health conditions. When the cornea’s protective outer layer (epithelium) is compromised, bacteria, fungi, or viruses can invade, leading to an ulcer.

Corneal ulcers vary in severity, from mild infections to potentially sight-threatening conditions if not promptly treated. Symptoms typically include eye redness, pain, light sensitivity, blurred vision, and discharge.

Contact Lenses and Corneal Ulcers

Contact lenses provide vision correction but require careful handling to prevent complications like corneal ulcers. Here’s how contact lens wear can contribute to ulcer formation:

Factors Contributing to Corneal Ulcers from Contact Lenses:

  1. Microbial Contamination: Contact lenses can harbor microbes from the environment or the eye itself. Improper cleaning, storage, or extended wear can increase microbial adherence and the risk of infection.
  2. Extended Wear: Sleeping in contact lenses, particularly those not designed for extended wear, reduces oxygen supply to the cornea. This creates a favorable environment for bacterial growth and compromises the cornea’s ability to fight infection.
  3. Poor Hygiene: Inadequate hand washing before handling lenses, using expired lens solutions, and wearing lenses past their recommended replacement schedule can introduce pathogens to the eye.
  4. Tight Fitting or Improperly Fitted Lenses: Lenses that do not fit properly can cause abrasions or alter the cornea’s shape, making it more susceptible to ulcers.

Types of Ulcers Associated with Contact Lenses:

  • Bacterial Ulcers: Caused by bacteria such as Staphylococcus aureus or Pseudomonas aeruginosa, these ulcers can develop rapidly and require immediate treatment with antibiotics.
  • Fungal Ulcers: Less common but potentially more severe, fungal ulcers are often associated with extended contact lens wear in contaminated environments.
  • Acanthamoeba Keratitis: Caused by a free-living amoeba found in water and soil, this infection can lead to a painful and challenging-to-treat ulcer.


Photo by Anna Shvets

Prevention and Management

Preventing corneal ulcers associated with contact lenses involves adopting good hygiene practices and following care instructions:

  • Hygiene: Wash hands thoroughly before handling lenses. Clean and disinfect lenses as recommended using appropriate solutions.
  • Proper Lens Use: Avoid sleeping in lenses not approved for extended wear. Replace lenses as directed and avoid wearing them beyond their recommended lifespan.
  • Regular Check-ups: Schedule routine eye exams to monitor eye health and ensure lenses fit properly.

When to Seek Medical Attention

Early detection and treatment are crucial for preventing complications from corneal ulcers. Seek medical attention if you experience:

  • Severe eye pain
  • Increased redness or discharge
  • Blurred or decreased vision
  • Sensitivity to light

Prompt treatment can help prevent vision loss and reduce the risk of long-term complications. Discontinue contact lens wear as soon as possible and discard any lenses that may be contaminated.


Photo by Nataliya Vaitkevich

Corneal ulcers are serious eye infections that can result from improper contact lens use. By understanding the risks associated with contact lenses and adopting proper hygiene practices, you can reduce the likelihood of developing this condition. Remember, your eye health is important, and we want you to enjoy clear vision with your contact lenses while minimizing the risk of complications.

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Ivan Yong

Dr. Ivan Yong is an optometrist with over 12 years of experience in the optical industry. He earned his doctorate from the Southern California College of Optometry and has practiced in multiple settings, including private practice, community health, and ophthalmology. Dr. Yong aims to expand access to affordable eyewear and improve eye health worldwide.