Salzmann's nodular degeneration is a rare, noninflammatory, slowly progressive, degenerative condition. Bluish-white nodules raised above the surface of the cornea characterize it. It has usually developed in corneas with a history of phlyctenulosis, trachoma, vernal keratoconjunctivitis, measles, scarlet fever, and various other viral diseases. However, today the majority of cases have been seen without recognized previous keratitis. It is composed of dense irregularly arranged collagen tissue with hyalinization between epithelium and Bowman's layer or beyond. Manual removal, phototherapeutic keratectomy (PTK) with or without the use of topical mitomycin-C, lamellar or penetrating keratoplasty have been used in the treatment of this disease.
Salzmann's nodular degeneration does not seem to consist of one clinical entity. In some cases, elevated and pannus-like tissue can be separated easily from the corneal surface leaving Bowman's layer almost untouched. In these eyes, subsequent PTK may be necessary to smooth the surface. Recurrences are rare in these eyes. In contrast, some eyes (often with major peripheral vascularization) are left with deep defects in Bowman's layer and superficial stroma after difficult mechanical removal of nodules. In these eyes, multiple masking/laser ablation procedures are mandatory to acquire a homogenous surface. In our experience, the required laser ablation depth is significantly greater and the best-corrected visual acuity to be expected is reduced in contrast to the eyes with easy removal of the nodules. In these eyes recurrences seem to occur more frequently after treatment.
Of 35 eyes documented to have Salzmann's nodular degeneration during the last 15 years in our department, 22 needed PTK treatment. Visual acuity increased from 0.4 to 0.7 on average. As a routine, laser ablation should be combined with previous conventional removal of nodules and excessive pannus tissue. By doing so, lamellar and penetrating keratoplasty techniques are hardly ever required in those eyes.