Last updated:

Reviewed by:

Dr Bryony Henderson

, Lead GP at Livi

Medically reviewed

This eye condition – also known as corneal ulcers – is inflammation of the cornea. Read on to find out how to recognise keratitis and what to do if you have it.

What is keratitis?

The cornea is the clear dome-shaped window at the front of your eye. It covers your iris (the coloured part of your eye) and your pupil. Keratitis is inflammation of your cornea.

What are the symptoms of keratitis?

The first symptoms of keratitis are often pain, redness and changes to your vision.

Your eye can feel irritated, and you may feel like you have something in your eye. Other symptoms are:

  • Eye redness

  • Excess tearing or discharge from your eye

  • Visual problems such as blurring and decreased vision

  • Difficulty opening your eye

  • Sensitivity to light and your pupil might appear to be small

Keratitis can become very serious very quickly, so it’s important to see a doctor immediately if you have symptoms. If you wear contact lenses, stop wearing them until you’ve seen a doctor.

How common is keratitis?

Infective keratitis affects 30 in every 100,000 people every year.

What causes keratitis?

Keratitis can be caused by either an infection of your cornea or trauma to the eye.

These are the key types of infectious keratitis:

  • Bacterial keratitis – this is common in people who wear contact lenses. Bacteria can grow in your contact lens case which can then spread to your eye.

  • Fungal keratitis – this is an uncommon type that can be caused by getting fungus (usually from plants) in your eye.

  • Viral keratitis – this is usually causes by the herpes virus, chicken pox, or the common cold. You can spread the virus by touching the affected area and then touching your eye.

  • Parasitic keratitis – a parasite called acanthamoeba that’s found in freshwater and soil can get in your eye. The biggest risk is to those with poor contact lens hygiene and if you swim with contact lenses in.

Non-infectious keratitis can be caused by:

  • Injury to your eye – if you scratch or damage your eye.

  • Excessively dry eyes – if you have an eyelid disorder that stops you being able to fully close your eye, or you don’t produce enough tears to keep your eye wet.

  • Intense ultraviolet (UV) light exposure – such as looking directly at the sun or from welding.

How is keratitis diagnosed?

A doctor will ask about your symptoms then examine your eye by:

  • Testing how well you can see

  • Looking in your eye using a special microscope. They will apply a stain to your eye to better see any changes

  • A doctor may take a swab of your eye to find out what’s causing your symptoms

How is keratitis treated?

The treatment of keratitis depends on the cause:

  • Antibiotics may be needed for bacterial or parasitic keratitis. This may be given in the form of eye drops or a tablet, depending on the severity

  • Antifungal medications for fungal causes

  • Antiviral medication and artificial tears can be given for viral keratitis

  • Rarely, in severe cases you may need a corneal transplant. This is a type of surgery when your damaged cornea is removed, and a healthy donor cornea is attached

If you have symptoms of keratitis you should see a doctor immediately.

How can Livi help?

A Livi doctor will be able to assess your symptoms and discuss the most appropriate way of getting you help. If keratitis is being considered then you will be advised to see a doctor for a physical examination so that the best treatment for you can be given.

Last updated:
Reviewed by:
Dr Bryony Henderson, Lead GP at Livi