What is Scleritis?

Scleritis occurs when the sclera of the eye becomes inflamed. The sclera is the thick, white outer wall of the eyeball that joins with the cornea at the front of the eye, and any infection or inflammation in this area can impact vision. Bacterial infection can sometimes cause this inflammation.

Anterior scleritis is more common and affects the front portion of the sclera. It tends to be more treatable, though some types can destroy the tissue and endanger the entire eye. Posterior scleritis affects the back of the sclera and is more rare, though difficult to diagnose. Both types affect women slightly more than men, and typically occur in older adults.

Anterior scleritis, in particular, is often associated with an autoimmune disorder like arthritis or lupus. In rare cases, scleritis can be caused by an eye injury.

What are the Symptoms of Scleritis?

Patients with scleritis often have pain in the eye area that can also be felt in the jaw and face on the impacted side. You may be able to see redness or swelling in the white of the eye. Some people have blurred vision and sensitivity to light depending on the type of scleritis that they have.

Scleritis symptoms should be taken very seriously because the disease can lead to partial or full vision loss if not treated.

Scleritis Causes

Doctors do not know what exactly causes scleritis. Some theorize that the condition is caused by something triggering the immune system’s T cells to start attacking the scleral cells in the eye, but they are not sure what the trigger is at this time. In about half of the cases reported of scleritis, it is in conjunction with immune disorders or autoimmune diseases – either as the first appearance of the disorder/disease or as a manifestation later on.

A list of these disorders and diseases includes:

  • Wegener’s disease (a rare disorder where blood vessels become inflamed)
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Sjorgen’s syndrome (an immune disorder that causes dry eyes and dry mouth)
  • Lupus

Additionally, eye infections that may or may not be related to an autoimmune disease can cause scleritis. It can also develop as a result of damage to the eye tissues from an accident of some kind.

No one knows how prevalent the condition is, but women are more likely to have it than men. The diagnosis usually happens in men and women between the ages of 40 and 69, with a majority of that group being between the ages of 50 and 59.

How is Scleritis Treated?

If a bacterial infection is suspected, most doctors will prescribe an antibiotic. For related pain, you may be given a topical or oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug like ibuprofen. Non-infectious cases may be treated with a corticosteroid to reduce swelling.

Scleritis that is caused by an autoimmune disease may be treated through efforts to boost the immune system. Treating the main disease can often result in improvements to scleritis.

In severe cases, surgery may be required to repair damage to the sclera and reduce the risk of vision loss.

Scleritis Prevention

Because of its heavy association with underlying disorders, and the lack of knowledge about what causes it, there is no way to prevent scleritis in most cases.

If an individual has an autoimmune disorder and their doctor has not specifically mentioned scleritis as a potential manifestation of their disorder, they should check to make sure scleritis is not a possibility. Anyone who has been diagnosed should, if they have not already done so, obtain a referral to an ophthalmologist so their eyes can be monitored. Early detection of the condition can prevent permanent damage and loss of vision.

Last Reviewed:
October 10, 2016
Last Updated:
November 02, 2017