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Medically reviewed by Dr. Samuel Sarmiento, M.D., MPH on August 3, 2023

Atopic dermatitis increases the risk of certain eye conditions, such as conjunctivitis. Understanding these conditions may be helpful for managing your overall health if you have atopic dermatitis. This article outlines key strategies that may help you recognize the signs of eye issues.

  • People with atopic dermatitis are prone to developing ocular surface diseases, with conjunctivitis being the most common.
  • The use of biologic drugs targeting inflammation may potentially increase the risk of conjunctivitis.
  • Dermatologists and eye care specialists may work together to provide patient care, including recognizing symptoms, managing treatment, and knowing when a referral is necessary.
  • Proactive and regular eye care, particularly when using biologic treatments for AD, is highly recommended.

Atopic dermatitis (AD), a chronic inflammatory skin disease, often leads to a variety of secondary conditions, including ocular surface diseases. As someone dealing with AD, you could be part of the 25%–90% of patients who also experience ocular surface diseases, with conjunctivitis being the most prevalent. Common triggers of ocular surface diseases include greater AD severity, concurrent conditions like asthma and rhinitis, and childhood onset of AD.

Recognizing Ocular Conditions in Biologic Treatment

As part of managing AD, you may be prescribed biologic treatments— drugs made by living animals, plants, or microorganisms. While these treatments can be effective, they may also increase the incidence of conjunctivitis, according to a review published in the Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology.

If you’re prescribed biologic therapy, it’s important to be vigilant about symptoms such as eye redness, discharge, light sensitivity, itchiness, and changes in vision. The onset of ocular surface diseases can vary—sometimes appearing just two weeks after starting treatment, or symptoms can show up after a year.

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The Role of Regular Screening for Eye Conditions

For those considering biologic treatments, a pre-treatment evaluation with an eye specialist could be beneficial. If access to eye care specialists is limited or wait times are long, your dermatologist can conduct a general eye exam. They can look at parts of your eyes, like your eyelids, the cornea, and the inside lining of your eyelids (conjunctiva). 

If your eyes are painful, feel dry or irritated, are sensitive to light, or show signs such as scars or puffiness on the conjunctiva or a watery discharge, these could be signs of ocular surface disease. If you have any of these signs or symptoms, your dermatologist might suggest that you see an eye doctor for further care.

Concluding Thoughts

Living with AD often means managing associated health conditions like ocular surface diseases. Biologic treatments, while effective, may increase the risk of conjunctivitis and other ocular surface diseases. Recognizing the symptoms, staying proactive about eye care, and coordinating with your healthcare team are key management strategies. As medical science continues to learn more about the connection between AD and ocular surface diseases, remember to take care of your eyes as part of your overall AD management plan.

Source:

Shi, V. Y., Chamberlain, W., Siegfried, E. C., Kraff-Cooper, C., Beckman, K. B., Lio, P. A., Paller, A. S., & Simpson, E. L. (2023). Practical management of ocular surface disease in patients with atopic dermatitis, with a focus on conjunctivitis: A review. Journal of the American Academy of Dermatology. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jaad.2023.01.043