Two previous cases of cold-induced corneal edema have been reported in patients with corneal anesthesia secondary to a trigeminal nerve disorder. We studied six patients with complete unilateral corneal anesthesia after trigeminal ablation. Subjects' eyes were exposed to 4 C air from a fan for one hour. We measured corneal thickness, corneal surface temperature, and endothelial permeability to fluorescein. During cold exposure, two of the six study eyes exhibited reversible corneal swelling (11% and 26% over baseline value). All anesthetic corneas were consistently colder (13.8 ± 0.7 C) than the contralateral corneas (21.0 ± 1.7 C, P = .001). Baseline endothelial permeability and aqueous humor flow rates were similar in both the study and control groups. After cold exposure, the study eyes had a significant transient increase in permeability compared to the controls (7.5 ± 2.4 x 10-4 cm/min vs 2.9 ± 1.4 x 10-4 cm/min, P = .007). Baseline endothelial photomicrographs also showed increased pleomorphism (fewer hexagonal cells) in the anesthetic corneas. These data suggest that sensory denervation of the eye influences ocular temperature regulation and corneal endothelial cell morphologic characteristics. Some anesthetic corneas are prone to cold-induced edema, which may result from excessive cooling.
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