Clinical Review

Lesson of the week: microbial keratitis in intensive care

BMJ 1997; 314 doi: (Published 08 February 1997) Cite this as: BMJ 1997;314:433
  1. J F Kirwan, ophthalmology registrara,
  2. T Potamitis, registrarb,
  3. H El-Kasaby, senior registrarb,
  4. M W Hope-Ross, consultantb,
  5. G A Sutton, consultantb
  1. a Royal Eye Unit Kingston Hospital Kingston upon Thames Surrey KT2 7QB
  2. b Birmingham and Midland Eye Hospital Birmingham B3 2NS
  1. Correspondence to: Mr J F Kirwan Department of Ophthalmology St George's Hospital London SW17 0QT
  • Accepted 20 August 1996


Microbial keratitis is a severe complication of corneal exposure in unconscious patients. We report five cases of microbial keratitis in three patients who sustained visual loss as a result while unconscious in an intensive care unit. The devastating consequences of microbial keratitis continue to be seen despite preventive measures.

Case reports

Case 1

A 74 year old man underwent a coronary artery bypass graft. He subsequently had renal failure and the adult respiratory distress syndrome. He was admitted to intensive care, where he was artificially ventilated for two weeks. After a tracheostomy he contracted a respiratory tract infection with Pseudomonas aeruginosa for which no obvious source was found. Twelve days later he developed bilateral microbial keratitis secondary to corneal exposure. This rapidly deteriorated and he developed bilateral endophthalmitis and a corneal perforation in the left eye. He was treated with intravitreal and topical gentamicin, intravenous ceftazidime, and ciprofloxacin. The inflammation gradually resolved. The patient, however, was left with bilateral scarred, thinned, and vascularised corneas. Visual acuity was reduced to light perception only in each eye.

Over the following six months there was little improvement in vision. The main cause of visual loss in the right eye was thought to be the result of corneal opacity and cataract. He underwent a right combined corneal transplantation, cataract extraction, and insertion of an intraocular lens. The procedure was technically difficult because of the caseous nature of the recipient corneal tissue, which tended to disintegrate. Despite some persisting …

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