Recurrent corneal erosion is a disorder that occurs when the epithelial cells (the top layer of the cornea) fail to adhere to the layer directly underneath them.
The layer below, called ‘Bowman’s Layer’, is made of collagen – this acts as a ‘glue’ and attaches the epithelial cells to the rest of the cornea. If ‘Bowman’s Layer is damaged, the epithelial cells can detach or erode, exposing the sensitive corneal nerves and causing vision problems.
Recurrent corneal erosion is usually caused by an initial problem such as a corneal abrasion or corneal dystrophy. Multiple recurrences are common (hence the name) – this is because the epithelial cells require a minimum of 8-10 weeks to regenerate or repair the epithelial basement membrane.
If you are suffering from recurrent corneal erosion, you may experience extreme pain, especially when trying to open your eye upon waking. You may also notice pain when pressure is placed on the eyelid, such as when sleeping on one side or when applying eye make-up.
You may also experience a feeling of a foreign body in the eye, extreme sensitivity to bright lights (photophobia) and watering from the eye(s).
Although visual signs are more difficult to see without an examination, they include what appears to be a localised roughening of the surface of the cornea.
Recurrent corneal erosion usually develops after corneal trauma (e.g. a foreign body or corneal scratch), or if you have a history of corneal disease.
Recurrent corneal erosion is more likely if other predisposing factors, such as diabetes, are present.
If you suffer from recurrent corneal erosion, there are a number of ways you can prevent or lessen these painful episodes:
The aim of the treatment will be to ensure that your epithelial cells heal and are given the chance to regenerate properly – in many cases, a topical lubricant will be enough to promote this.
Depending on the extent of your recurrent corneal erosion, antibiotic drops may be prescribed. An ophthalmologist may also advise a short-term use of a therapeutic (bandage) contact lens.
If your episodes worsen or increase, there are a number of other options that can be considered. This includes a surface laser treatment called phototherapeutic keratectomy (PTK).
If you suffer from episodes of recurrent corneal erosion, it is important to take preventative measures. Make sure you see an ophthalmologist – with the right treatment plan during an episode, the epithelium will heal and regenerate properly, and your vision shouldn’t be permanently affected.