Cornea: Fungal Infection

What is a fungal infection of the cornea?

Fungal keratitis is an infection of the cornea, which is the clear outer layer of your eye. The infection is caused by a fungus. It can cause a sore called a corneal ulcer. The ulcer can cause swelling and cloudiness of the cornea and a decrease in your vision. If not treated right away, fungal keratitis can cause blindness.

What is the cause?

Fungus includes things like yeast, mold, and mildew. A fungus can live in air, in soil, on plants, and in water. Some live on or in the human body. Fungus cannot usually infect a healthy cornea. However, anything that causes a break or scratch in the cornea can lead to a fungal infection, such as:

  • Getting scratched in your eye with a fingernail, comb, or twig
  • Getting splinters or dirt in your eye
  • Not cleaning contact lenses properly or sleeping in your contacts

A fungal infection of the cornea is more likely if you have conditions that can weaken your cornea or weaken your ability to fight off infection, such as:

  • Using steroid eyedrops
  • Eye surgery
  • Rheumatoid arthritis or other problems with the immune system

What are the symptoms?

Symptoms may include:

  • Redness in your eye
  • Pain, a scratchy feeling, or feeling like there is something in your eye
  • Painful sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision
  • A white, gray, or cloudy area on your eye

How is it diagnosed?

Your eye care provider will ask about your symptoms and medical history and do exams and tests such as:

  • An exam using a microscope with a light attached, called a slit lamp, to look closely at the front and back of your eye
  • An exam using drops to enlarge, or dilate, your pupils and a light to look into the back of your eyes
  • Biopsy, which is the removal of a tiny sample of tissue from the cornea for testing to find the cause of the infection
  • An ultrasound, which uses sound waves to show pictures of the back of your eye

How is it treated?

Your healthcare provider will prescribe eye drops to treat a fungal infection. You may need to use these eye drops every couple of hours, even during the night. You may also be given antifungal pills to take by mouth.

Fungal keratitis can lead to a permanent scar on your cornea. If this scar limits your vision, your provider may treat it with a contact lens, laser treatment, or surgery.

How can I take care of myself?

Follow the full course of treatment your healthcare provider prescribes. Ask your healthcare provider:

  • How and when you will hear your test results
  • How long it will take to recover
  • What activities you should avoid and when you can return to your normal activities
  • How to take care of yourself at home
  • What symptoms or problems you should watch for and what to do if you have them

Make sure you know when you should come back for a checkup.

How can I help prevent fungal keratitis?

  • Have regular eye exams, especially if you have a health condition such as rheumatoid arthritis.
  • To help prevent severe eye injuries, wear safety eyewear when you:
    • Do any work around the house that requires hammering, power tools, chemicals, or splatter of any kind
    • Do yard work such as gardening or trimming trees
  • Follow your eye care provider’s instructions for wearing and caring for contact lenses. Do not wear them longer than recommended.
Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site:
Developed by RelayHealth.
Adult Advisor 2015.1 published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2013-12-05
Last reviewed: 2014-10-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
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