The outermost layer of the eye, the cornea, is highly sensitive. It receives nourishment from tears and the aqueous humor; in order to refract light, the cornea must remain transparent and cloud-free. Scarring of the cornea caused by a wide variety of infectious and inflammatory diseases leads to severe vision loss and blindness.
According to the World Health Organization, blindness of the cornea is the 4th leading cause of blindness globally (5.1%), and is one of the major causes of visual deficiency after cataract, glaucoma, and age-related macular degeneration.
Trachoma is one of the main causes of corneal scarring and is responsible for nearly 4.9 million blind. Ocular trauma and ulcerations are also significant causes of corneal blindness – causing 1.5 to 2.0 million new cases every year. Onchocerciasis and leprosy are still significant causes of blindness, affecting approximately 250,000 individuals each. Traditional eye medicines have also been implicated as a major risk factor in the current epidemic of corneal ulceration and thus corneal blindness in developing countries.
Additionally, each year more than 350,000 children are born with or develop infections at a young age which cause corneal blindness. Read more on childhood blindness.
The causes of corneal blindness include:
- Vitamin A deficiency
- The aftereffects of bacterial, fungal, or viral infections
- Eye trauma
- Congenital disease
- Traditional medicine or home remedies, which often harm the eye rather than relieve pain or improve eyesight
Reduce or eliminate exposure to harsh conditions. Wearing hats, sunglasses, and using eye drops to prevent dry eyes can also help.
The only curative treatment available is a cornea graft or transplant, but both are difficult to perform because access to eye banks that provide viable eye tissue are not as readily available in the developing countries. Even in developed nations access to the needed surgery is limited.
SEE International & Corneal Blindness Around the World
As the condition is significantly less common than either cataracts or diabetic retinopathy and viable donated corneas are difficult to acquire, SEE treats fewer cases of corneal blindness than other blinding conditions. However, the cases SEE doctors are involved in tend to be more advanced and require complex surgery which the local doctors may not be trained in.
SEE is working diligently to reduce the number affected by corneal blindness around the world by:
- Performing corneal grafts and transplants
- Teaching appropriate surgical techniques
- Training local eye care personnel in ophthalmology in rural and urban areas
- Strengthening local health care infrastructure, including encouraging the development of local eye banks