Corneal hydrops, often called acute corneal hydrops, is a complication of conditions that affect the shape of your cornea, like keratoconus. Contact a provider if you have sudden vision loss, light sensitivity and eye pain. Treatment may shorten the episode.
Corneal hydrops is the medical term for swelling in the cornea of your eye. The swelling happens when a split in a layer of your cornea known as Descemet’s membrane allows fluid in your eye to leak through to an inner layer of your cornea called the stroma.
In addition to the swelling, corneal hydrops can cause an inflammatory response in your eye that may result in a cloudy or hazy spot in your cornea. This cloudiness shows up as a white spot on your eye and can make your vision blurry.
Corneal hydrops typically happens suddenly, so you may also hear the term “acute corneal hydrops.” Corneal hydrops can be a complication of keratoconus or any corneal disease that affects the shape of your cornea. These diseases fall under the term “corneal ectasias”.
Corneal hydrops may get better without treatment, but don’t try to make this decision on your own. Visit your eye care provider, who’ll be able to diagnose the condition and will work with you to find the best way to treat it.
An estimated 0.2% to 2.8% of people who have keratoconus develop corneal hydrops. One figure estimates that keratoconus affects 55 out of each 100,000 individuals in the United States.
Corneal hydrops happens more often in men and people assigned male at birth (AMAB). It usually happens when you’re in your 20s or 30s.
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Some people with corneal hydrops don’t have symptoms. If you do have symptoms, you may have:
Corneal hydrops isn’t something like a cold that you get from another person. Healthcare providers believe that causes of corneal hydrops include:
Risk factors for corneal hydrops include having:
While you have corneal hydrops, your vision may be impaired.
Having corneal edema (swelling) that lasts for a long time can result in blood vessels growing where they shouldn’t grow (neovascularization).
Your provider may order other tests, including:
Providers treat corneal hydrops with medication or surgery. You may also need treatment for the underlying disease causing corneal hydrops.
For many instances of small tears with little swelling, providers may recommend using topical medications such as:
Providers may recommend surgery if you have larger tears with more swelling that may result in perforation (holes).
In severe cases, untreated corneal hydrops can cause the growth of abnormal blood vessels in your eye.
If you have keratoconus, you may consult an eye care provider to determine if you’re a good candidate for a treatment called crosslinking, which will prevent the progression of your condition and prevent corneal hydrops. However, in some cases, you may not be able to prevent acute corneal hydrops as a complication of keratoconus and other corneal diseases.
If you have seasonal allergies or any other condition that causes itchy or tired eyes, you can reduce your risk by avoiding eye rubbing.
Your provider can treat acute corneal hydrops. But, in most cases, it’ll result in a corneal scar that may require additional treatments, including surgery.
You’ll need follow-up appointments while you’re recovering and for a time afterward to determine the best plan of action for you.
Do your best to stop rubbing your eyes. Keep your scheduled eye appointments.
Ask your provider for details on when you should contact them or go the emergency room. In general, you should seek care when:
Wearing contact lenses when you have corneal hydrops may be difficult or uncomfortable. Once you find out you have it, you’ll probably need to stop wearing your contacts. You should be able to go back to wearing them after treatment.
A note from Cleveland Clinic
Nearly everyone finds it scary when they suddenly can’t see as well as usual and their eyes hurt. Sometimes sudden eye pain and not being able to see are symptoms of corneal hydrops, a medical term for swelling in your cornea. Corneal hydrops may happen for different reasons, including having keratoconus. Contact an eye care provider right away if you have symptoms of corneal hydrops. Your eye care provider will diagnose why your cornea is swelling and recommend treatments.
Last reviewed by a Cleveland Clinic medical professional on 02/14/2023.
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