Indecision about corticosteroids for bacterial keratitis: an evidence-based update

Ophthalmology. 2002 May;109(5):835-42; quiz 843. doi: 10.1016/s0161-6420(02)00963-6.


Purpose: To quantify the effect of topical corticosteroids on bacterial keratitis.

Clinical relevance: Bacterial keratitis is an economically important infection affecting 1 in 10,000 Americans annually. The predisposing factors, prior ocular health, infecting microorganisms, inflammatory severity, and therapeutic choices can affect the course and outcome. Antibacterial treatment is often curative but does not guarantee good vision. Because many treated patients develop a sight-limiting corneal problem, antiinflammatory therapy has sometimes been recommended.

Literature reviewed: Publications from 1950 to 2000 that evaluated the effect of corticosteroids on bacterial keratitis in animal experiments, case reports and series, case-comparison and cohort studies, and clinical trials were systematically identified by electronic and manual search strategies.

Results: The use of a topical corticosteroid before the diagnosis of bacterial keratitis significantly predisposed to ulcerative keratitis in eyes with preexisting corneal disease (odds ratio [OR], 2.63; 95% confidence limits [CL], 1.41, 4.91). Once microbial keratitis occurred, prior corticosteroid use significantly increased the odds of antibiotic treatment failure or other infectious complications (OR, 3.75; 95% CL, 2.52, 5.58). However, the effect of a topical corticosteroid with antibiotics after the onset of bacterial keratitis was unclear. Experimental models suggested likely advantages, but clinical studies did not show a significant effect of topical corticosteroid therapy on the outcome of bacterial keratitis (OR, 0.62; 95% CL, 0.25, 1.54).

Conclusions: Topical corticosteroids increase the risk of infectious complications affecting the cornea but may or may not have an effect during antibacterial therapy. The unproven role of corticosteroids in the adjunctive treatment of bacterial keratitis highlights the need to collect prospective information that would guide appropriate management for this common eye disease.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't
  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, P.H.S.
  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Topical
  • Animals
  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local / therapeutic use
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / adverse effects
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents / therapeutic use*
  • Clinical Trials as Topic
  • Evidence-Based Medicine
  • Eye Infections, Bacterial / diagnosis
  • Eye Infections, Bacterial / drug therapy*
  • Eye Infections, Bacterial / microbiology
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Humans
  • Keratitis / diagnosis
  • Keratitis / drug therapy*
  • Keratitis / microbiology
  • Treatment Failure


  • Anti-Infective Agents, Local
  • Anti-Inflammatory Agents
  • Glucocorticoids