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Sympathetic Ophthalmia


Kara C. LaMattina

, MD, Boston University School of Medicine

Last full review/revision Oct 2020| Content last modified Oct 2020
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Sympathetic ophthalmia is inflammation of the uveal tract after trauma or surgery to the other eye.

Sympathetic ophthalmia is a rare granulomatous uveitis that occurs after penetrating trauma or surgery to the other eye. Sympathetic ophthalmia has been estimated to occur in up to 0.5% of nonsurgical penetrating eye wounds and in about 0.03% of surgical penetrating eye wounds. The underlying mechanism is thought to be an autoimmune reaction directed against melanin-containing cells in the uvea. This is the same mechanism suspected in Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada disease Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada (VKH) disease A number of connective tissue diseases cause inflammation of the uveal tract. (See also Overview of Uveitis.) The seronegative spondyloarthropathies are a common cause of anterior uveitis. Among... read more Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada (VKH) disease . Uveitis appears within 2 to 12 weeks after trauma or surgery in about 80% of cases. Isolated cases of sympathetic ophthalmia have occurred as early as 1 week or as late as 30 years after the initial trauma or surgery.

Symptoms of the granulomatous uveitis can involve any or all segments of the eye. Symptoms typically include floaters and decreased vision. Serous detachments and choroiditis are common.

Diagnosis is clinical.

Treatment of Sympathetic Ophthalmia

  • Oral corticosteroids and immunosuppressants

  • With severe injuries, possibly early prophylactic enucleation

Treatment typically requires oral corticosteroids (eg, prednisone, 1 mg/kg orally once/day) followed by long-term use of a noncorticosteroid immunosuppressive drug. Prophylactic enucleation of a severely injured eye should be considered within 2 weeks of vision loss to minimize the risk of sympathetic ophthalmia developing in the other eye, but only when the injured eye has no vision potential.

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