Episcleritis

Definition
Episcleritis is an inflammation (irritation and swelling) of the episclera, a membrane covering the sclera of the eye.

Causes, incidence, and risk factors

The sclera is composed of connective tissue fibers forming the strong white wall of the eye. It is covered by the episclera, a thin layer of tissue containing many blood vessels that nourish the sclera. At the front of the eye, the episclera is covered by the conjunctiva.

Episcleritis is inflammation of the episclera which occurs in the absence of an infection. Episcleritis is usually mild and rarely progresses to scleritis. The cause is usually unknown, but certain diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis, Sjogren’s syndrome, syphilis, herpes zoster, and tuberculosis have been associated with episcleritis. It is a common condition.

Symptoms

     
  • A pink or purple coloration to the normally white part of the eye  
  • Eye pain  
  • Sensitivity to light  
  • Eye tenderness  
  • Tearing of the eye

Signs and tests

Eye examination is usually sufficient to diagnose the disorder. No special tests are usually necessary.

Treatment

The inflammation usually runs its course without treatment in 1 to 2 weeks. Treatment with corticosteroid eye drops may shorten the course of the symptoms.

Expectations (prognosis)

Episcleritis usually improves without treatment. Treatment may shorten its duration.

Complications

     
  • Relapses often occur  
  • Rarely, scleritis may develop

Calling your health care provider

Call your health care provider if symptoms of episcleritis persist beyond two weeks. Patients with episcleritis should be re-evaluated if pain worsens or if vision decreases.

Johns Hopkins patient information

Last revised: December 6, 2012
by Simon D. Mitin, M.D.

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