What Is Terrien Marginal Degeneration

  • Natalia Ewa Grzesik Bachelor of Science – BSc Pharmacology and Innovative Therapeutics, Queen Mary University of London


Terrien Marginal Degeneration (TMD) is a rare and progressive corneal disorder characterised by the thinning and degeneration of the cornea, the front part of the eye appearing transparent in healthy individuals.1 Unlike other corneal conditions, TMD primarily affects the outer edges of the cornea, leading to a gradual deterioration of vision, loss of visual acuity, the ability to make out minor details, and increased astigmatism.1 The exact cause is unknown. However, it is often associated with inflammatory and degenerative origins.2

TMD can have a significant effect on an individual’s quality of life because it can cause significant visual impairment and discomfort due to mild irritation, affecting a person's ability to perform daily tasks.3 The thinning of the cornea weakens its structural integrity, leading to symptoms such as blurred vision, glare, and sensitivity to light.3 In advanced stages, TMD can result in irregular corneal astigmatism; however, in most cases, a conservative treatment approach can be taken through the use of glasses or contact lenses.4 

It is considered a rare eye condition typically known to occur more commonly in men, particularly over the age of 40.4 There is also a less common variant of TMD that occurs in younger patients.4 This is often associated with prominent inflammation, pain, and associated scleritis, which is inflammation in the white part of the eye.4

Anatomy of the cornea

The cornea plays a crucial role in vision as the eye's outermost, clear, and dome-shaped layer.5 It acts as a protective shield, guarding the eye against dust, germs, and other harmful particles while also providing additional protection against ultraviolet radiation from the sun.5 Moreover, the cornea is the primary refractive surface of the eye, meaning that it is responsible for bending and focusing incoming light onto the lens.5 This focused light then travels to the retina in the back of the eye, where the image is sent to the brain, enabling us to perceive the visual world around us.5 

Understanding normal corneal structure is essential in comprehending TMD. TMD specifically affects the peripheral part of the cornea, meaning that it predominantly affects the edges rather than the central part, leading to thinning and degeneration in this region.2 This thinning ultimately disrupts the layers of the eye, leading to structural weakness.3 Ultimately, this weakening can result in various visual disturbances and will require medical intervention and management.3 Understanding the structure and function of the cornea is crucial in correct diagnosis, differentiation from other eye diseases, and then appropriate treatment approaches.3 

Etiology and causes of TMD

The etiology of TMD remains unknown; however, it mostly occurs in middle-aged individuals, indicating that it is associated with ageing and neurodegeneration.4 This is when the tissues or organs begin to break down since cells lose the ability to regenerate successfully. There could also be genetic links or it could be caused by an autoimmune disease, which is when the immune system attacks healthy tissue, however there is insufficient research to confirm this.2 

TMD shares similarities with other corneal disorders, such as keratoconus, but it is distinct in its clinical presentation and location.3 Unlike keratoconus, which involves central corneal thinning and conical bulging, TMD primarily affects the peripheral cornea. However, both conditions involve corneal thinning.3 The relationship between TMD and keratoconus remains a subject of study, as some individuals may exhibit features of both conditions, suggesting a potential overlap or shared underlying mechanisms.3

TMD typically manifests in adulthood, often between the ages of 30 and 50, although cases have been reported in younger individuals as well, including those in their teens.3 It appears to affect men more commonly than women.3 Certain demographic groups, such as individuals with a family history of TMD, may be at a higher risk of developing the condition, but there has not been a distinct link between genetics and TMD as of yet.3 Continued research is necessary to understand the specific demographic and environmental factors that contribute to TMD development comprehensively.


Symptoms of TMD can vary but commonly include:

  1. Blurry Vision: Gradual vision loss and blurriness, often starting at the edges of the visual field.2
  2. Glare and Light Sensitivity: Increased sensitivity to light, particularly in well-lit environments or when exposed to glare and progressive astigmatism.2
  3. Ghosting or Halos: Double vision or the perception of halos around light sources.2
  4. Decreased Visual Acuity: Reduced ability to see fine details and objects clearly.2
  5. Irritation and Discomfort: Ocular discomfort, such as dryness, itching, or foreign body sensation, which may result from irregular corneal shape.3
  6. Discolouration of Iris: There could be a clear colour change or coloured patches over the eye.3

Diagnostic methods and tools used to identify TMD

Diagnostic tools for TMD include:

  1. Slit-Lamp Examination: A specialised microscope that provides a detailed view of the cornea's structure.3
  2. Corneal Topography: Mapping the corneal surface to assess irregularities.3
  3. Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT): An imaging technique to identify thinning areas in the cornea.3
  4. Clinical History: A comprehensive patient history, including a family history of TMD, can be useful in diagnosis.3
  5. Confocal Microscopy: This advanced imaging technique allows for a detailed examination of corneal layers.3

Distinguishing TMD from other corneal conditions can be challenging but it is based on several key differences, such as:

  1. Location: TMD primarily affects the corneal periphery, distinguishing it from central conditions like keratoconus.3
  2. Symmetry: TMD is typically bilateral and asymmetric, meaning it tends to affect both eyes at different rates. Some eye conditions are unilateral, meaning they only affect one eye.3
  3. Slow Progression: TMD progresses slowly over years, in contrast to rapid changes seen in certain conditions.3
  4. Symptoms: Specific symptoms like peripheral vision loss and glare sensitivity are more indicative of TMD, and there tends to be less pain and inflammation than conditions such as Mooren’s ulcer, which causes moderate to severe pain.3

Management and treatment

In most cases, TMD does not cause severe symptoms and can be managed with non-invasive methods, such as:

  1. Corrective Lenses: Initially, mild TMD may be managed with glasses, addressing early astigmatism and visual distortion.2
  2. Contact Lenses: Specialty contact lenses, such as scleral lenses, can provide improved vision by creating a smooth corneal surface, compensating for irregularities.2
  3. Ocular lubricants: Lubricating eye drops can alleviate dryness and discomfort associated with TMD.3
  4. Topic steroids: Can alleviate any symptoms of inflammation, such as redness or swelling.3
  5. Regular Monitoring: Periodic eye examinations are crucial to track disease progression and adjust clinical approaches as needed.3

In more severe cases where corneal damage is deeper and more pronounced, surgical interventions may be necessary. There have been several options developed throughout the years, including:

  1. Tectonic Grafting: This procedure strengthens and restores the integrity of the cornea by stabilising thinning areas.2
  2. Corneal Transplant (Keratoplasty): In severe cases, a partial or full corneal transplant may be necessary, replacing the damaged cornea with a healthy donor cornea.3
  3. Amniotic Membrane Transplant: A thin, clear membrane from human amniotic tissue can be used to promote healing and reduce inflammation.4

One major side effect that should be noted when treating TMD is corneal perforation, which could cause serious problems if not treated rapidly.4 If this occurs, it would be treated using surgery such as an amniotic membrane transplant described above.4 Furthermore, the use of grafts could result in increased inflammation and tissue rejection.3 

Importance of early diagnosis and intervention in managing TMD

Rapid detection of TMD is a key factor in effective symptom management and disease progression, as it is associated with:

  1. Preserving Vision: Early detection allows for timely management, preserving visual function and quality of life.3
  2. Preventing Progression: Intervention in the early stages can prevent or slow down the progression of the disease, reducing the need for more invasive treatments later.3
  3. Enhancing Treatment Success: Non-surgical options are more effective when initiated early, providing better visual outcomes and improved comfort.3


Terrien Marginal Degeneration (TMD) is a rare corneal disorder characterised by peripheral thinning and degeneration that could lead to progressive vision loss. Common symptoms include blurry vision, glare, light sensitivity, and visual distortion. TMD is diagnosed through various tests, including slit-lamp examination and corneal topography, which differentiates it from other corneal disorders. However, various imaging techniques may also be used. Management options typically include glasses and contact lenses as most patients are minimally symptomatic, although in severe cases, surgeries such as a corneal transplant or amniotic membrane transplant may be more appropriate.

Increased awareness fosters early recognition, encouraging individuals to seek timely eye examinations. This allows for an early diagnosis, leading to faster clinical intervention for proactive management, preserving vision, and improving quality of life. Furthermore, tailored management strategies, such as specialised lenses or surgical interventions, can significantly enhance visual outcomes.

Unfortunately, TMD is severely understudied; therefore, there is inconclusive evidence regarding the cause of the disease, and treatment options are limited. Ongoing research aims to uncover the genetic and environmental factors contributing to TMD, paving the way for more targeted treatments as well as pharmaceutical approaches that could provide less invasive options.


  1. Ruutila M, Fagerholm P, Lagali N, Hjortdal J, Bram T, Moilanen J, et al. Diagnostic criteria for Terrien marginal degeneration: nordic terrain degeneration study. Cornea 2021;40:133–41. https://doi.org/10.1097/ICO.0000000000002427.
  2. Ding Y, Murri MS, Birdsong OC, Ronquillo Y, Moshirfar M. Terrien marginal degeneration. Surv Ophthalmol 2019;64:162–74. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.survophthal.2018.09.004.
  3. Terrien’s Marginal Degeneration: A Teaching Case Report | The Journal of Optometric Education n.d. https://journal.opted.org/article/terriens-marginal-degeneration-a-teaching-case-report/ (accessed October 19, 2023).
  4. Chung J, Jin KH, Kang J, Kim TG. Spontaneous corneal perforation in Terrien’s marginal degeneration in childhood: A case report. Medicine (Baltimore) 2017;96:e9095. https://doi.org/10.1097/MD.0000000000009095.
  5. Ludwig PE, Lopez MJ, Sevensma KE. Anatomy, head and neck, eye cornea. StatPearls, Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2023.
This content is purely informational and isn’t medical guidance. It shouldn’t replace professional medical counsel. Always consult your physician regarding treatment risks and benefits. See our editorial standards for more details.

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Natalia Ewa Grzesik

Bachelor of Science – BSc Pharmacology and Innovative Therapeutics, Queen Mary University of London

Natalia boasts a solid background in pharmacology and neuroimmunology research, honing her skills through hands-on laboratory work and active involvement in scientific endeavors. With extensive experience in scientific writing, medical communication, and teaching various subjects, she brings a well-rounded expertise to the table.

In addition to her academic prowess, Natalia is a certified first aider and instructor, providing her with valuable insights into the practical aspects of healthcare. Her teaching extends beyond theoretical knowledge, encompassing vital medical and academic skills.

Driven by a genuine passion for healthcare and a desire to push the boundaries of research, Natalia advocates for the broader dissemination of scientific knowledge. She believes in fostering inclusive scientific communication, inviting everyone to participate in this expansive and crucial field.

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