Black ink used in tattoos may cause inflammation of the uvea―the middle structure of the eye.
Here at EyeCare 20/20, when we talk about taking preventative steps to protect your eyes from outside dangers or harmful conditions, it typically involves basic safety tips. For instance, do not work near potentially hazardous equipment or dangerous chemicals without wearing proper eye protection, or wear sports eye safety goggles to protect yourself from injury. However, there are a number of outside lifestyle factors that may also contribute to eye conditions that are just as dangerous as physical injury, yet very few of us know about them.
One hazardous eye condition that can cause serious discomfort and vision loss is uveitis―the inflammation of the uvea, which is the middle layer of the eye. The uvea includes several important parts of our eye which contribute to our overall vision, including the iris, the choroid (located between the retina and the whites of our eyes) and the ciliary body. Uveitis is a very serious vision condition which can lead to permanent vision loss if not treated, which is why early diagnosis and treatment of this disease are so important to preventing the complications of uveitis.
While the development of uveitis is often associated with infections, injuries or autoimmune disorders (though the exact cause is often unknown), new literature suggests that tattoo-associated uveitis may actually be a common cause of this disease as well.
Blank Tattoo Ink and Uveitis
Trucian Ostheimer MD, a second-year uveitis fellow at Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, stated that only eight cases of patients with uveitis and associated changes in tattooed skin have been published in the English literature throughout history. However, since beginning his fellowship with the Wilmer Ocular Immunology Service, he has lready seen seven such patients. All of these patients were young, aged 20 to 44 years old, at the time of his presentation.
According to a review of the study in Ophthalmology Times, “Five of seven patients had bilateral non-granulomatous anterior uveitis—four with chronic and one with recurrent disease. Two patients had bilateral chronic granulomatous panuveitis. Initial visual acuity varied widely. Five of seven patients presented with potentially vision-threatening ocular complications, such as severe cystoid macular edema, neurosensory retinal detachment, and iris bombe.”
However, what was interesting about the patients in this study was that most of them had extensive tattoos (many of those tattoos being multicolored). However, the portions of the tattooed skin that contained black pigment had been affected and visibly raised, while no other abnormalities were noted in the portions of the tattoo that contained other colored pigments.
Does Black Tattoo Ink Lead To Inflammation of the Uvea?
While these studies show that there certainly is some kind of link between black tattoo ink and uveitis, researchers are still slow to say for sure that ink may actually lead to the formation of this eye inflammation disease.
“Unfortunately, these biopsies, although interesting, do not seem to tell us what the actual cause is,” Dr. Ostheimer said.
“It’s useful as part of your uveitic review of systems to ask patients who have uveitis about tattoo changes,” Dr. Ostheimer continued. “It is purely speculative, but I think it is reasonable to conclude that there may be some component of black tattoo ink that acts as an environmental trigger—leading to the development of simultaneous bilateral ocular inflammation and elevation of tattooed skin.”
Given the findings, Dr. Ostheimer and other physicians agree that it may be beneficial for eye doctors who treat uveitis should consider asking patients about any tattoo changes they may also be experiencing, as a component of the ink may be acting as an environmental trigger.
What do you think about the findings of Dr. Ostheimer? Do you agree that there may be a link between these two factors? Be sure to let us know your thoughts in the comments below!
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