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Keratoconjunctivitis

The translucent cornea is the layer covering the pupil and iris. The conjunctiva is the cover over the sclera, the whites of your eyes. Together they form the protective layer over the eye. It is common for a condition affecting one of these layers to affect the other due to the proximity of the two. Keratoconjunctivitis (KC) is when both the cornea and conjunctiva are inflamed.

The most common form of keratoconjunctivitis is known as dry eye syndrome (DES). The clinical term is keratoconjunctivitis sicca, which means dry cornea and conjunctiva in Greek.  A general feeling of discomfort is the primary symptom of DES. Patients describe itching, burning, scratchiness, stinging, and dryness, of course. When the eye becomes irritated they also become very red. Less common symptoms include a feeling of pain or pressure. There also may be a feeling that a foreign object is stuck in your eye. Oddly, dry eye symptom is also associated with excessive tear production. Those with DES may notice more “sleep” in their eyes every morning. It is often described as “stringy.” See our article on DES for more information.

Vernal keratoconjunctivitis (VKC) is an allergic reaction manifesting itself in the cornea. The name is actually a misnomer; vernal implies that the condition is prevalent during the spring, but it is at its peak in the summer. There are two forms of VKC. The first is palpebral form, which affects the eyelids. Besides for the keratoconjunctivitis, growths known as papillae may begin to grow out of the eyelid. The next is bulbar form, which affects the border of the cornea and conjunctiva, or the limbus. Growths occur and the tissue thickens. One can incur both forms at once. Both forms also come with sensitivity to light, excessive tears, and rheum. Antihistamines and steroids are administered to reduce swelling and the allergic reaction.

Atopic keratoconjunctivitis (AKC) is also associated with those with allergies and eczema. AKC can cause vision loss due to corneal ulceration and scarring. The weakening of the cornea can lead to keratoconus and cataracts. Again, antihistamines and steroids are used to treat it.

Epidemic keratoconjunctivitis (EKC) is inflammation caused by an infection through the adenovirus. As the name implies, the condition is extremely contagious. Besides for sensitivity to light and excessive tearing, EKC presents itself with flu symptoms. Antivirals and steroids are used.

Superior limbic keratoconjunctivitis (SLKC) is inflammation caused by trauma to the eye, although the exact cause remains unclear. It is characterized by the same sensitivity to light, red eyes, and excessive tearing as other forms of KC. Additionally, the tissue around the limbus begins to thicken and may cloud vision.

KC can occur due to excessive UV exposure to the eye, also known as welder’s eye.

Farm animals such as cows, goats, and sheep have been shown to experience KC, normally due to bacterial infection.