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Bullous Keratopathy

By Melvin I. Roat, MD, FACS, Clinical Associate Professor of Ophthalmology; Cornea Service, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University; Wills Eye Hospital

Bullous keratopathy is an eye disorder that involves a blister-like swelling of the cornea (the clear layer in front of the iris and pupil).

Locating the Cornea

Bullous keratopathy is most common among older people. It can occur by itself, it may run in families, and, occasionally, it occurs after eye surgery, such as cataract removal.


The swelling leads to the formation of fluid-filled blisters on the surface of the cornea. Eye discomfort, pain when looking at bright lights, and significant blurring of vision can result. The blisters can rupture, causing severe pain, often with the sensation of a foreign object trapped in the eye, and can further impair vision.


  • A doctor's evaluation

The diagnosis of bullous keratopathy is based on the typical appearance of a swollen, cloudy cornea with blisters on the surface.


  • Salty eye drops

  • Drugs to lower pressure in the eye

  • Sometimes soft contact lenses

  • Sometimes corneal transplantation

Bullous keratopathy is treated by an ophthalmologist (a medical doctor who specializes in the evaluation and treatment—surgical and nonsurgical—of eye disorders).

Salty eye drops (hypertonic saline) and salty ointments are used to draw the excess fluid from the cornea.

Drugs that lower the pressure in the eye are sometimes given.

On occasion, soft contact lenses can be used for a short period of time to decrease discomfort by acting as a bandage to the cornea.

If vision is reduced or discomfort is significant and prolonged, corneal transplantation is often done.

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