BACKGROUND: Radiation therapy can cause corneal and conjunctival abnormalities that sometimes require surgical treatment. Corneal stem cell dysfunction is described, which recovered after the cessation of radiation. METHODS: A 44-year-old man developed a corneal epithelial abnormality associated with conjunctival and corneal inflammation following radiation therapy for maxillary cancer. He experienced ocular pain and loss of vision followed by conjunctival epithelialisation of the upper and lower parts of the cornea. RESULTS: Examination of brush cytology samples showed goblet cells in the upper and lower parts of the cornea, which showed increased fluorescein permeability, and intraepithelial lymphocytes. Impression cytology showed goblet cells in the same part of the cornea. Specular microscopy revealed spindle type epithelial cells. Patient follow up included artificial tears and an antibiotic ophthalmic ointment. The corneal abnormalities resolved after 4 months with improved visual acuity without any surgical intervention, but the disappearance of the palisades of Vogt did not recover at 1 year after radiation. CONCLUSION: Radiation therapy in this patient caused temporary stem cell dysfunction which resulted in conjunctivalisation in a part of the cornea. Although limbal stem cell function did not fully recover, this rare case suggested that medical options should be considered before surgery.
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