Your doctor will review your medical history and your symptoms, conduct an eye examination, and perform tests to diagnose keratitis.

Diagnosing keratitis typically involves the following:

  • Eye exam. Your doctor will perform a general examination of your eye. It may be uncomfortable to open your eye for the exam, but it's important that your doctor be able to examine your eye. The exam will include an effort to determine how well you can see (visual acuity), usually using standard eye charts.
  • Penlight exam. Your doctor may examine your eye using a penlight, to check your pupil's reaction, size and other factors. Your doctor may apply a stain to the surface of your eye, to help identify the extent and character of surface irregularities and ulcers of the cornea.
  • Slit-lamp exam. Your doctor may examine your eyes with a special instrument called a slit lamp, which provides a bright source of light and magnification. This instrument uses an intense line of light — a slit-like beam — to illuminate your cornea, iris, lens, and the space between your iris and cornea. The light allows your doctor to view these structures with high magnification to detect the character and extent of keratitis, as well as the effect it may have on other structures of the eye.
  • Laboratory analysis. Your doctor may take a sample of tears or some cells from your cornea for laboratory analysis to determine the cause of keratitis and to help develop a treatment plan for your condition.


Noninfectious keratitis

Treatment of noninfectious keratitis varies depending on the cause. If your keratitis is caused by a scratch or extended contact lens wear, you may not need any treatment. If you're having significant tearing and pain, you may need to apply prescription medicine to the eye and wear an eye patch until your condition improves.

Infectious keratitis

Treatment of infectious keratitis varies, depending on the cause of the infection.

  • Bacterial keratitis. For mild bacterial keratitis, antibacterial eyedrops may be all you need to effectively treat the infection. If the infection is moderate to severe, you may need to take oral antibiotics.
  • Fungal keratitis. Keratitis caused by fungi typically requires antifungal eyedrops and oral antifungal medication.
  • Viral keratitis. If a virus is causing the infection, antiviral eyedrops and oral antiviral medications may be effective. But these medications may not be able to eliminate the virus completely, and viral keratitis may recur.
  • Acanthamoeba keratitis. Keratitis that's caused by the tiny parasite acanthamoeba can be difficult to treat. Antibiotic eyedrops may be helpful, but some acanthamoeba infections are resistant to medication.

If keratitis that doesn't respond to medication, or if it causes permanent damage to the cornea that significantly impairs your vision, your doctor may recommend a cornea transplant.

Clinical trials

Explore Mayo Clinic studies testing new treatments, interventions and tests as a means to prevent, detect, treat or manage this disease.

Preparing for your appointment

You may start by seeing or calling your family doctor if you have eye-related signs or symptoms that worry you. Depending on the type and severity of your signs and symptoms, he or she may refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) after an initial exam. Or you may need to go directly to an ophthalmologist.

Because appointments can be brief, and because there's often a lot to talk about, it's a good idea to be well-prepared.

What you can do

  • Be aware of any pre-appointment restrictions when you make the appointment. Ask if there's anything you need to do in advance, such as stop wearing contact lenses or discontinue using eyedrops.
  • List any symptoms you're experiencing, including any that may seem unrelated to the reason for which you scheduled the appointment.
  • List all the medications, vitamins and supplements that you're taking.
  • List questions to ask your doctor.

For keratitis, some basic questions to ask your doctor include:

  • What is likely causing my symptoms?
  • What are other possible causes?
  • What kinds of tests do I need?
  • What is the best course of action?
  • What are the alternatives to the approach you're suggesting?
  • I have other health conditions. How can I best manage them together?
  • Are there any restrictions that I need to follow?
  • Should I see a specialist? What will that cost, and will my insurance cover it?
  • Is there a generic alternative to the medicine you're prescribing?
  • Do you have any brochures or other printed material that I can take with me? What websites do you recommend?
  • What will determine whether I need to be seen for a follow-up visit?

What to expect from your doctor

Your doctor is likely to ask you a number of questions, such as:

  • When did you begin experiencing symptoms?
  • Have your symptoms been continuous or occasional?
  • How severe are your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, seems to improve your symptoms?
  • What, if anything, appears to worsen your symptoms?
  • Has your eye been injured recently?
  • Have you been swimming or been in a hot tub recently?
  • Do your symptoms affect one eye or both eyes?
  • Do you use contact lenses?
  • How do you clean your contact lenses?
  • How often do you replace your contact lens storage case?
  • Have you had a similar problem in the past?
  • Are you using eyedrops now or have you used any recently?
  • How is your general health?
  • Have you ever had a sexually transmitted infection?
  • Are you taking prescription medications or supplements?
  • Have you recently changed the type of cosmetics that you are using?
Sept. 10, 2015
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  2. Basics of bacterial keratitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/contactlenses/bacterial-keratitis.html. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  3. Jacobs DS. Evaluation of the red eye. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  4. Bacterial keratitis preferred practice pattern — 2013. American Academy of Ophthalmology. http://www.aao.org/preferred-practice-pattern/bacterial-keratitis-ppp--2013. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  5. DeLoss KS, et al. Complications of contact lenses. http://www.uptodate.com/home. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  6. Yanoff M, et al. Noninfectious keratitis. In: Opthalmology. 4th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2014. http://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  7. Douglas, and Bennett's Principles and Practice of Infectious Diseases. 8th ed. Philadelphia, Pa.: Saunders Elsevier; 2015. https://www.clinicalkey.com. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  8. Protect your eyes. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/contactlenses/protect-your-eyes.html. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  9. Basics of HSV (Herpes Simplex Virus) Keratitis. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. http://www.cdc.gov/contactlenses/viral-keratitis.html. Accessed June 28, 2015.
  10. What is herpes keratitis? American Academy of Ophthalmology. http://www.geteyesmart.org/eyesmart/diseases/herpes-keratitis.cfm. Accessed Aug. 1, 2012.
  11. Robertson DM (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. July 10, 2015.