Inflammation in the cornea and the conjunctiva is called keratoconjunctivitis. There are several types. Some are caused by infections, but some aren’t. Treatment often involves eye drops.
You have a cornea — a clear window — on the front of each eye. Your cornea is made of tough, transparent tissue. It covers your iris and your pupil. Inflammation of your cornea is called keratitis.
Your conjunctiva is a clear, thin tissue that covers your sclera (the white part of your eyes) and also lines the inside of your eyelids. Inflammation of your conjunctiva is called pink eye (conjunctivitis).
The difference between having only keratitis or only conjunctivitis is with keratoconjunctivitis, you have both.
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Generally, there are several ways to divide keratoconjunctivitis into types or forms. For instance, you can have it in one eye (unilateral) or in both eyes (bilateral).
It can be hyperacute (last less than one week), acute (lasting three to four weeks) or chronic (lasting for more than four weeks).
Keratoconjunctivitis can be infectious or non-infectious. Non-infectious causes include allergies, autoimmune disorders or toxins.
Keratoconjunctivitis and xerophthalmia both affect the same parts of your eye — your cornea and your conjunctiva. They both involve inflammation too. However, vitamin A deficiency causes xerophthalmia and the dry eyes related to the condition.
An estimated 6 million people in the U.S. go to their healthcare provider with signs of keratoconjunctivitis or conjunctivitis each year. These conditions can happen to anyone, but different types of keratoconjunctivitis are more common among certain groups. For instance, bacterial keratoconjunctivitis is more common among school-age children.
The signs and symptoms of keratoconjunctivitis may include:
There are many things that can cause keratoconjunctivitis, and some of them are contagious. Others are non-infectious. The type of keratoconjunctivitis you have corresponds to what’s causing it.
There are forms of keratoconjunctivitis that aren’t associated with contagious illness. These include:
This type includes bacterial, viral and fungal forms. Some of these forms include:
Your healthcare provider will start almost any discussion reviewing your symptoms and medical history. They’ll ask you about other conditions, recent illnesses and things like whether or not you wear contact lenses. Your provider may also perform:
Treating keratoconjunctivitis depends on what’s causing the condition. In general, your healthcare provider may suggest:
Treating very dry eyes if you have keratoconjunctivitis sicca may include:
Your provider may suggest surgery to treat resistant forms of some types of keratoconjunctivitis.
If you have keratoconjunctivitis that’s related to other conditions, your provider will treat the other illnesses.
If you have other conditions that are associated with keratoconjunctivitis, you can reduce your risk by following your treatment plan for those conditions. For instance, you can:
Some types of keratoconjunctivitis are long-term (chronic) conditions. You’ll probably be managing them on a regular basis. Others, like those caused by infections, may clear up quickly with treatment.
Forms of allergic keratoconjunctivitis (vernal and atopic) can cause eye damage if you don’t get treatment.
See your healthcare or eye care provider if you have persistent redness and discomfort in your eye, especially if your vision is blurred or you have discharge.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
If your eyes are puffy, watery, itchy and red where they should be white, you should contact your healthcare provider. You may have keratoconjunctivitis, or inflammation in both your cornea and your conjunctiva. While some forms may resolve on their own, other types may need to be treated by your healthcare provider.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 07/08/2022.
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