Protect Your Eyes from Ocular Rosacea

Rosacea is an inflammatory skin condition that's best known for the red, flushing face and acne-like bumps that it causes. But people with rosacea can also experience eye problems, a condition called ocular rosacea. If left untreated, rosacea eye complications can progress from mild discomfort and irritation to possible vision loss.

Ocular rosacea is a common problem, affecting as many as half of all people with rosacea.

Rosacea can cause a number of eye complications, resulting in the following symptoms:

  • Dryness
  • Bloodshot eyes
  • Watery eyes
  • Frequent styes (pimple-like bumps on the eyelids)
  • Redness and swelling of the eyes
  • Blurry vision or difficulty seeing
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Crusting on the eyelids and eyelashes

“Ocular rosacea symptoms typically involve a dry, gritty feeling in the eye, and/or burning, itching, irritation,” says Amy J. Derick, MD, a board-certified dermatologist in Barrington, Ill.

Ocular Rosacea Complications

Though ocular rosacea may start out as irritation and discomfort, it can cause serious eye complications. When ocular rosacea becomes severe, the cornea itself may become damaged, resulting in the loss of clear vision. Untreated ocular rosacea can lead to a rare condition called rosacea keratitis, which can result in blindness.

Treatment will help relieve irritating symptoms along with preventing serious rosacea eye complications like vision loss or blindness.

Easing Ocular Rosacea Symptoms

The first step in relieving ocular rosacea symptoms and preventing rosacea eye complications is to seek treatment for the condition from an ophthalmologist or dermatologist depending on your symptoms.

"If the problem is only in the eye, I would recommend seeing an eye doctor first," suggests Dr. Derick. "Otherwise, dermatologists are a good start." When the symptoms of ocular rosacea are severe, such as light sensitivity, a burning sensation, and very red eyes, it's even more important to go to an ophthalmologist quickly.

The good news is that ocular rosacea can be treated with a simple regimen, and it generally responds well to medication and clears up quickly.

"Oral antibiotics, like doxycycline, are typically the treatment of choice for ocular rosacea," says Derick. Prescription eye drops may also be recommended to help ease ocular rosacea symptoms.

There are other steps you can take to help ocular rosacea resolve and ease your discomfort while waiting for the medication to take effect. A careful cleansing routine for the eyes can soothe symptoms. Several times a day, you should:

  • Use a warm compress over the eyes for several minutes to ease any discomfort.
  • Wash eyes with a gentle cleanser, like a little baby shampoo diluted with lots of water or a special product meant for the eyelids. Lightly rub the eyelids with the cleanser to clean them and remove crusting. Rinse away the cleanser with water.

Though you may not expect eye irritation to be related to your facial symptoms like redness, chances are that the two could be parts of the same problem. If you notice these symptoms of rosacea eye involvement, see your ophthalmologist or dermatologist promptly for diagnosis and treatment to prevent further problems.

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