Objective: This study aimed to describe the morphology of cystic disorders of the corneal epithelium by confocal microscopy.
Design: The study design was a prospective evaluation of confocal microscopic images of patients with cystic corneal disorders.
Participants: Thirteen patients (19 eyes) were included. The corneal disorders included four patients with corneal decompensation (Fuchs' dystrophy), five patients with epithelial basement membrane dystrophy (e.g., Cogan's microcystic and map-dot dystrophies), one patient with Meesmann's dystrophy, and three patients with recurrent erosion syndrome of unknown etiology. Confocal images of diseased corneas were compared with those of ten normal control eyes (ten subjects).
Intervention: All patients were examined by slit-lamp biomicroscopic analysis and confocal microscopic analysis (Tomey, Erlangen-Temmenlohe, Germany). Image analysis was used to identify the corneal epithelial structures correlated with the corresponding pathology.
Main outcomes measures: Confocal microscopy was used to assess the size, shape, light scatter, and reflection of the cysts.
Results: Slit-lamp examination results showed corneal epithelial cystic lesions in all cases. Confocal microscopy was able to identify cystic lesions in 9 (69.2%) of 13 patients. Of the four patients in whom lesions could not be found by confocal microscopy, three had recurrent erosion syndrome and the other one had epithelial basement membrane dystrophy. The confocal images were compatible with the clinical and histologic pictures of the disease. Normal control eyes did not show any epithelial lesion, either by biomicroscopy or confocal microscopy.
Conclusions: Confocal microscopy provides an in vivo evaluation of cystic epithelial corneal lesions. This study shows that confocal microscopy is suitable for examining cystic lesions of the corneal epithelium. Nevertheless, it is not as sensitive as biomicroscopy in detecting cystic lesions in certain corneal conditions.