Purpose: Previous studies have described transient corneal endothelial changes in non-contact lens wearers after a short period of soft contact lens wear by means of contact and noncontact specular microscopy and modified slit lamp biomicroscopy, which provide magnifications from 60 to 100x. In this investigation, we documented and characterized these contact lens-related corneal changes using the white light, real-time confocal microscope, which is capable of cellular resolution imaging of all layers within the cornea at magnifications of 100 to 500x.
Methods: We used a clinical confocal microscope to study corneal changes in three patients wearing a high water content soft contact lens for the first time.
Results: In one patient, endothelial changes consisting of irregularly shaped, round or oval, dark regions were observed within the endothelial mosaic. Scattered hyper-reflective keratocyte nuclei were seen in the posterior stroma. The keratocytic and endothelial changes were most evident 20 minutes after placement of the lens. By 30 minutes, the changes were fewer and less prominent, and the brightness of the highly reflective keratocyte nuclei had decreased.
Conclusions: These studies show, for the first time, that the transient changes associated with contact lens wear occur not only in the endothelium, but also in the corneal stroma. It has been suggested that the changes result from an increase in CO2 and lactic acid, which causes a transient reduction in the corneal pH. We hypothesize that the resulting acidic environment may induce gene expression that causes changes in the involved nuclei, which in the keratocytes become hyper-reflective, and in the endothelium become enlarged, resulting in posterior displacement of the cell membrane and producing the dark "blebs" and irregular lines observed at this level of the posterior cornea.