Imagine waking up with a sudden, sharp, and unbearable pain in one eye, accompanied by blurred vision and sensitivity to light. This is true for some individuals suffering from recurrent corneal erosion (RCE). This condition can not only be extremely painful but also unpredictable, often causing anxiety and impacting the quality of life. This comprehensive guide aims to provide you with essential information about RCE, its symptoms, treatment, prevention, and coping strategies so that you or your loved ones can better manage this challenging eye condition.

Key Takeaways

  • Recurrent Corneal Erosion (RCE) is characterized by pain, redness, photophobia and blurred vision.
  • Diagnosis involves patient history and various tests such as slit lamp examination or fluorescein staining.
  • Treatment includes conservative therapies like eye drops or surgical interventions. Lifestyle modifications can help to prevent recurrences, while coping strategies provide emotional support for those living with RCE.

Understanding Recurrent Corneal Erosion

A person with recurrent corneal erosion syndrome

Recurrent corneal erosion (RCE) is a painful eye condition characterized by the repeated breakdown of the corneal surface due to damage and improper healing. This condition, also known as recurrent corneal erosion syndrome, often manifests after the fourth decade of life and is more frequent in females. In some cases, patients may experience recalcitrant recurrent corneal erosions, which can be particularly challenging to manage.

This portion of the guide will comprehensively cover the definition, causes, and risk factors of RCE to build a thorough understanding of this complex eye disorder.


RCE occurs when the corneal epithelium, the cornea’s outermost layer, detaches from the corneal epithelial basement membrane due to abnormal epithelial adhesion. This detachment leads to corneal surface breakdown and discomfort, resulting in symptoms such as:

  • Corneal scarring
  • Moderate to severe eye pain
  • Photophobia (sensitivity to light)
  • Lacrimation (excessive tearing)
  • Redness
  • Blurred vision

The clinical manifestations of RCE typically involve:

  • Sudden onset of ocular pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Tearing
  • Photophobia
  • Often occurring upon awakening

These symptoms can be intermittent, lasting for hours to days, and may recur unpredictably over time, causing anxiety and emotional distress for those affected.


RCE can be caused by various factors, including:

  • Trauma, such as a scratch or injury to the corneal epithelium, can lead to aberrations in the basal epithelial cells’ adhesion to the basement membrane, resulting in RCE.
  • Corneal dystrophies, such as epithelial basement membrane dystrophy (EMBD), Reis-Buckler dystrophy, lattice dystrophy, and macular dystrophy, may contribute to the emergence of RCE.
  • Infections, ocular rosacea, and other eye conditions can also cause RCE.

Infections, ocular surgery, contact lens wear, diabetes mellitus, dry eye disease, and previous refractive surgery have also been identified as potential causes of RCE. Identifying the root cause of RCE significantly tailoring the most suitable treatment options for every individual.

Risk Factors

Risk factors for RCE include:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Preexisting eye conditions
  • Certain systemic diseases

As mentioned earlier, recurrent corneal erosions are more frequent in females, typically manifesting after the fourth decade of life. Corneal dystrophies, such as epithelial basement membrane dystrophy (EMBD), are also associated with an increased risk of RCE and are recurrent corneal erosions related.

Systemic diseases can contribute to the risk of RCE by causing inflammation and weakening of the cornea and leading to dry eye syndrome, which increases the probability of corneal erosions. Lifestyle factors, such as smoking, may also increase the risk of RCE.

Symptoms and Diagnosis of RCE

A person with blurred vision and severe pain due to recurrent corneal erosion

Identifying the symptoms of RCE and securing an accurate diagnosis is vital for its effective management. This part of the guide will examine the common symptoms of RCE along with diagnostic techniques implemented to confirm its presence.


The symptoms of RCE usually emerge several weeks after an initial injury to the cornea. Patients may experience episodes of:

  • Ocular pain
  • Redness
  • Photophobia
  • Blurred vision
  • Tearing
  • Foreign body sensation

These symptoms occur intermittently over time and typically persist from hours to days. It is important to be aware of these symptoms and seek medical attention if they persist or worsen.

The initial indications of Recurrent Corneal Erosion (RCE) include:

  • Sudden commencement of ocular pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Tearing
  • Photophobia
  • Sharp pains

These symptoms can have a detrimental impact on the quality of life and may cause emotional distress, anxiety, and depression.

Diagnostic Techniques

Diagnosis of RCE involves a comprehensive patient history, slit lamp examination, adhesion tests, and advanced imaging techniques such as in vivo confocal microscopy and optical coherence tomography. A slit lamp examination for RCE diagnosis entails examining the cornea for indications such as minor irregularities, epithelial microcysts, expansive areas of loose epithelium, or epithelial defects. Fluorescein staining may be utilized to emphasize these abnormalities.

Adhesion tests evaluate the adhesion or stickiness of the corneal epithelium to the underlying basal lamina. A common adhesion test involves touching the eye’s surface with a surgical sponge. Should the adhesion be inadequate, it may indicate RCE. These diagnostic techniques help to confirm the presence of RCE and determine the most appropriate treatment options.

Treatment Options for RCE

A person receiving medical treatment for recurrent corneal erosion

Treatment options for RCE span from conservative therapies to surgical interventions, hinging on the severity and persistence of the condition. This section will delve into the various available treatment options for RCE, aiming to alleviate symptoms and foster the cornea’s proper healing.

Conservative Therapies

Conservative therapies for the treatment of recurrent corneal erosion (RCE) include:

  • Antibiotic and preservative-free lubricating drops
  • Hypertonic saline solution
  • Autologous serum drops
  • Management of underlying lid disease, such as meibomian gland dysfunction

Initial treatment for RCE includes a combination of antibiotic and preservative-free lubricating drops. Additionally, nighttime lubricating or hypertonic saline ointments are used.

Autologous serum drops are produced from the patient’s peripheral blood and provide a mixture of growth factors and cytokines to the ocular surface, replicating naturally produced tears. Studies have demonstrated their effectiveness in treating RCE.

Hypertonic saline solution should be administered throughout the day. Apply an ointment to the same skin area at bedtime for 6–12 months. This will help to encourage proper epithelial attachment.

Surgical Interventions

Surgical interventions for RCE include:

  • Epithelial debridement: the elimination of the compromised epithelium
  • Diamond Burr Polishing (DBP): provides a smoother surface and stronger epithelial-stromal adhesion, potentially improving the results of RCE treatment
  • Anterior stromal puncture: a procedure that creates small punctures in the anterior stroma to promote healing and reduce the risk of recurrent erosions
  • Amniotic membrane transplantation: the transplantation of amniotic membrane onto the cornea to promote healing and reduce inflammation
  • Phototherapeutic Keratectomy (PTK): an excimer laser procedure that removes superficial corneal irregularities and opacities, smoothing the corneal surface and potentially reducing erosion recurrence.

These surgical interventions can be effective in treating RCE.

Anterior stromal puncture is a technique that enhances epithelial adhesion by creating multiple shallow incisions through the epithelium into the anterior stroma. This procedure can be particularly beneficial for patients with anterior basement membrane dystrophy. Amniotic membrane transplantation involves an amniotic membrane as a biological bandage to promote healing. Data suggests that DBP and PTK help create a regular corneal surface, facilitating stronger epithelial attachment and healing.

Preventing Recurrence and Complications

Preventing recurrence and complications of RCE involves lifestyle modifications, monitoring, and follow-up care.

This part will outline several strategies to prevent RCE recurrence and reduce the risk of potential complications linked with this condition.

Lifestyle Modifications

Lifestyle modifications for RCE prevention include:

  • Wearing sunglasses
  • Using eye drops
  • Avoiding eye rubbing
  • Applying ointment medication

Wearing polarized sunglasses with adequate UV protection can help protect the cornea from harmful UV rays and decrease the likelihood of RCE. Applying lubricating eye drops and ointments regularly throughout the day and before bedtime can help keep the ocular surface hydrated and prevent corneal erosions.

In addition to these measures, it is crucial to maintain good eye hygiene and avoid rubbing the eyes, which can increase the risk of corneal damage and RCE. Incorporating omega-3 fatty acids into one’s diet and staying well-hydrated can also prevent RCE.

Monitoring and Follow-up

Regular monitoring and follow-up care with an eye care professional can help detect and manage any complications or recurrences of RCE. Follow-up care may include a slit lamp examination and staining with fluorescein to detect any epithelial defects. This allows healthcare professionals to intervene promptly and forestall further complications.

Patients should be cognizant of indications such as:

  • Abrupt commencement of ocular pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Tearing
  • Photophobia
  • Redness between check-ups

Seek medical attention if necessary. Adhering to your doctor’s instructions and maintaining regular follow-up appointments can greatly contribute to preventing RCE recurrence and complications.

Coping with RCE

Living with RCE can pose challenges due to its unpredictable nature, persistent discomfort, and impact on daily life. This portion will address emotional support and practical advice for managing RCE, aiming to enhance the quality of life for those grappling with this condition.

Emotional Support

Emotional support from friends, family, and support groups can help individuals with RCE cope with the unpredictability and anxiety associated with the condition. Connecting with others who share similar experiences can provide emotional validation, understanding, and a sense of belonging, helping to reduce feelings of isolation and providing a safe space to express emotions.

Professional counselling and therapy can also be beneficial for those struggling with the emotional impacts of RCE. Incorporating self-care practices, such as mindfulness, meditation, and relaxation techniques, can further aid in managing the emotional challenges associated with RCE.

Practical Tips

Practical tips for managing Recurrent Corneal Erosion (RCE) include:

  • Learning how to open the eyes properly
  • Using a humidifier
  • Maintaining good eye hygiene
  • Applying lubricating eye drops and ointments regularly throughout the day and before bedtime to keep the ocular surface hydrated and prevent corneal erosions
  • Using a humidifier to increase the air’s moisture helps prevent the cornea from drying out and decreases the risk of corneal abrasions.

Other tips for managing RCE include wearing polarized sunglasses with adequate UV protection, avoiding eye rubbing, and applying ointment medication. These small adjustments to daily routines can significantly improve the quality of life for individuals with RCE.


Recurrent corneal erosion (RCE) is a painful and unpredictable eye condition that can significantly impact one’s quality of life. Understanding the condition, its symptoms, and available treatment options is crucial for effective management of RCE. By adopting lifestyle modifications, staying vigilant with monitoring and follow-up care, and seeking emotional support, individuals with RCE can better cope with the challenges associated with this condition and ultimately improve their quality of life.

The journey to overcoming RCE may be fraught with challenges. Still, taking control of this condition and leading a more comfortable life is possible with the right information, support, and perseverance. Remember, you are not alone in your struggle with RCE; resources and support are available to help you navigate this journey.

Frequently Asked Questions

How do you fix corneal erosion?

Treatment for corneal erosion typically includes patching the eye, using moisturizing eye drops or ointments, and prescribing antibiotic eye drops or ointments. In some cases, minor surgery is necessary to prevent recurrence.

Can RCE be cured?

Recurrent Corneal Epithelial Erosion Syndrome (RCE) can be managed with treatments that reduce friction, lubricate the eyes and in more severe cases, surgery. However, there is no cure for RCE, and patients may experience frequent episodes over weeks, months or even years.

How can I cure my recurrent corneal erosion?

To treat my recurrent corneal erosion, I followed my doctor’s instructions to use antibiotics, preservative-free lubricating drops, and night-time ointments to avoid rubbing my eye. In addition, I used patching as recommended and received guidance on carefully opening my eyes.

What are the best eye drops for recurrent corneal erosion?

For recurrent corneal erosion, the best eye drops are lubricant drops such as Refresh, Genteal, HypoTears PF, Cellufresh or similar non-preserved tears. These should be used frequently during the day, every 1-2 hours, and an attempt should be made to check the eyes while sleeping to ensure the lids close completely.

Are there any specific risk factors for developing RCE?

Age, gender, preexisting eye conditions, and certain systemic diseases have been identified as risk factors for developing RCE.


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Photo graph of Dr. Conlon operating with loops on.

Dr. M. Ronan Conlon started his career in the field of ophthalmology at the same time as the development of refractive eye surgery in Canada. In 1996, he brought laser technology to Canada from Germany, which allowed him to perform laser eye surgery before it was available in the United States. With the establishment of the Conlon Eye Institute, Dr. Conlon has performed more than 40,000 refractive procedures and has advanced his expertise in LASIK and refractive cataract surgery.

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