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By Melvin I. Roat, MD, FACS, Clinical Associate Professor of Ophthalmology; Cornea Service, Sidney Kimmel Medical College at Thomas Jefferson University; Wills Eye Hospital

Episcleritis is inflammation of the tissue lying between the sclera (the tough, white, fiber layer covering the eye) and the conjunctiva (the membrane that lines the eyelid and covers the white of the eye).

  • The cause is usually unknown.

  • Symptoms include eye redness, swelling, and irritation.

  • Episcleritis goes away on its own, but corticosteroid eye drops may make symptoms go away quicker.

Episcleritis occurs in young adults and affects women more often than men. Usually, the inflammation affects only a small patch of the eyeball and causes a red, and sometimes slightly yellow, raised area. The condition is not usually a sign of any other disease but sometimes occurs in people who have body-wide inflammatory diseases (such as lupus or rheumatoid arthritis) or who have had shingles of the forehead and eye.

Symptoms include eye tenderness and irritation, with slightly increased watering of the eye and mildly increased sensitivity to bright light. The condition tends to disappear and may recur. The diagnosis is based on the symptoms and on the appearance of the eye. Doctors look for the red and sometimes yellow patch.

An Inside Look at the Eye

Treatment of Episcleritis

  • Sometimes corticosteroid eye drops or nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs by mouth

Treatment of episcleritis is often unnecessary. Eye drops that constrict blood vessels in the eye, such as tetrahydrozoline, can improve the appearance of the eyes but are not necessary.

To treat an attack, corticosteroid eye drops or a nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drug taken by mouth can be used to make symptoms go away quicker.

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