Interstitial keratitis is inflammation of the tissue of the cornea, the clear window on the front of the eye. The condition can lead to vision loss.
Causes, incidence, and risk factors
Interstitial keratitis is a serious condition in which blood vessels grow into the cornea. Such growth can cause loss of the normal clearness of the cornea. This condition is often caused by infections.
Syphilis is the most common cause of interstitial keratitis, but rare causes include:
In the United States, most cases of syphilis are recognized and treated before this eye condition develops. However, interstitial keratitis remains the most common cause of blindness in the world.
Signs and tests
Interstitial keratitis can be easily diagnosed by slit-lamp examination of the eyes. Blood tests and chest x-rays will usually be needed to confirm the infection or disease that is causing the condition.
The underlying disease must be treated. Treating the cornea with corticosteroid drops may minimize scarring and help keep the cornea clear.
Once the active inflammation has passed, the cornea is left severely scarred and with abnormal blood vessels. The only way to restore vision at this stage is with a cornea transplant.
Diagnosing and treating interstitial keratitis and its cause early can preserve the clear cornea and good vision.
A corneal transplantation is not as successful for interstitial keratitis as it is for most other corneal diseases. The presence of blood vessels in the diseased cornea brings white blood cells to the newly transplanted cornea and increases the risk of rejection.
Calling your health care provider
All patients with interstitial keratitis will be closely followed by an ophthalmologist and a medical specialist with expertise in the underlying disease. Any worsening pain, increasing redness, or decreasing vision should be evaluated immediately. This is particularly crucial for patients with corneal transplants.
Prevention consists of avoiding the underlying infection, and if infected, receiving prompt and thorough treatment and follow-up.
Ginsberg SP. Corneal problems in systemic disease. In: Tasman W, Jaeger EA, eds. Duane's Ophthalmology. 15th ed. Philadelphia, Pa: Lippincott Williams & Wilkins;2009:chap 43.
Bouchard CS. Noninfectious keratitis. In: Yanoff M, Duker JS, eds. Ophthalmology. 3rd ed. St. Louis, Mo: Mosby Elsevier;2008:chap 4.17.
Last reviewed 9/3/2012 by Linda J. Vorvick, MD, Medical Director and Director of Didactic Curriculum, MEDEX Northwest Division of Physician Assistant Studies, Department of Family Medicine, UW Medicine, School of Medicine, University of Washington. Franklin W. Lusby, MD, Ophthalmologist, Lusby Vision Institute, La Jolla, California. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Medical Director, A.D.A.M., Inc.
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