Keratitis is a more serious eye infection than conjunctivitis. Invasion of deeper eye tissues occurs and can lead to complete corneal destruction. Any microorganism can cause this condition, especially after trauma to the eye, but this section focuses on one of the more common causes: herpes simplex virus. It can cause keratitis in the absence of predisposing trauma.
The usual cause of herpetic keratitis is a “misdirected” reactivation of (oral) herpes simplex virus type 1 (HSV-1). The virus, upon reactivation, travels into the ophthalmic rather than the mandibular branch of the trigeminal nerve. Infections with HSV-2 can also occur as a result of a sexual encounter with the virus or transfer of the virus from the genital to eye area or if an individual has a recurrent oral infection with HSV-2. Preliminary symptoms are a gritty feeling in the eye, conjunctivitis, sharp pain, and sensitivity to light. Some patients develop characteristic branched or opaque corneal lesions as well. In 25% to 50% of cases, this keratitis is recurrent and chronic and can interfere with vision. Blindness due to herpes is the leading infectious cause of blindness in the United States. The viral condition is treated with trifluridine or acyclovir or both.
In the last few years, another form of keratitis has been increasing in incidence. An amoeba called Acanthamoeba has been causing serious keratitis cases, especially in people who wear contact lenses. This free-living amoeba is everywhere—it lives in tap water, freshwater lakes, and the like. The infections are usually associated with less-than-rigorous contact lens hygiene, or previous trauma to the eye