Which clinical history findings are characteristic of scleritis?

Updated: Aug 29, 2019
  • Author: Manolette R Roque, MD, MBA, FPAO; Chief Editor: Andrew A Dahl, MD, FACS  more...
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Symptoms of scleritis can include pain, tearing or photophobia, ocular tenderness, and decreased visual acuity. Pain is the most common symptom for which patients seek medical assistance, and it is the best indicator of active inflammation. Pain results from both direct stimulation and stretching of the nerve endings by the inflammation.

The following pain descriptions are characteristic of scleritis:

  • Severe, penetrating pain that radiates to the forehead, brow, jaw, or sinuses
  • Awakens the patient during the night
  • Exacerbated by touch; extremely tender
  • Only temporarily relieved by analgesics

The primary sign of scleritis is redness. Tearing or photophobia without mucopurulent discharge, which is usually mild or moderate, may occur in about 25% of patients with scleritis.

Unfortunately, many patients with scleritis first present to the emergency room or urgent care clinic, where a diagnosis of conjunctivitis is typically treated inappropriately with topical antibiotics. This practice generally leads to a significant delay in the initiation of anti-inflammatory therapy and a prolonged clinical course and more guarded prognosis.

Upon palpation, the patient may describe tenderness that is diffuse with possible radiation to other parts of the head.

Decreased visual acuity may be caused by extension of scleritis to the adjacent structures, leading to reactive blepharitis, myositis, keratitis, uveitis, glaucoma, cataract, and fundus abnormalities.

Redness gradually increases over several days. It has a bluish red tinge, which is seen best when the examination is performed in natural light, not through the slit lamp. It may be localized in one sector or involve the whole sclera; most frequently, it is in the interpalpebral area. This discoloration does not blanche after topical applications of routine sympathomimetic dilating agents (Neo-Synephrine 2.5%).

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