Tattoos – especially black-ink tattoos – may be associated with uveitis more often than previously thought, according to research from the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine.
Uveitis is an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye – between the white of the eye (sclera) and retina. This layer includes the iris and blood vessels that feed the other parts of the eye. Inflammation in this layer can have serious effects on vision, even causing blindness. Uveitis can be caused by many different things, including viruses, funguses, eye injuries, and infections in other parts of the body. Sometimes the underlying cause of uveitis is never known.
Up until 2014, there had only been eight cases reported where uveitis happened along with changes in tattooed skin. However, Dr. Trucian Ostheimer and his colleagues at Wilmer Eye Institute observed seven cases in less than two years. It may just be that doctors and patients have not put these pieces together before, or known what to ask about.
In all seven of these recent cases, parts of the skin that were covered by black-ink tattoos became raised and hard at the same time that uveitis symptoms began. Treatment that cleared up the uveitis also cleared up the skin symptoms.
Only black-ink areas became raised and hard — colored tattoo areas showed no skin symptoms. It had been more than six months since the tattoos were done for all of the patients, but several of the patients had had extensive tattooing done in a relatively short period of time.
This research does not mean that black-ink tattoos cause uveitis, but it definitely points to something that needs further research. In some people there does seem to be a connection of some kind. This also suggests that doctors who see patients with uveitis should ask about any changes in tattoos, and patients should make sure to tell their doctor about any other symptoms they are having at the same time as their uveitis symptoms.
Written by Dan Gudgel of the American Academy of Ophthalmology