How can my tattoo affect my eyes?

It seems like a very unlikely scenario, but could my tattoo really be causing my eye trouble? According to some doctors and recent studies, the answer is yes, tattoos might be linked to an inflammatory condition in the eye called uveitis. You might be aware that certain glow-in-the-dark tattoo inks that have been shown to cause some types of cancer in the last couple years, so this isn’t so far-fetched.

What is uveitis? Uveitis (you-vee-eye-tis) is inflammation of the Uvea or middle layer of the eye which consists of the iris, choroid and ciliary body. Some symptoms of uveitis include pain and irritation, light sensitivity, redness, blurred vision, or floating spots in vision. It is typically treated with steroids to reduce the inflammation and sometimes dilating drops to prevent the inflamed muscles in the eye from moving. Sunglasses can be worn to reduce the light sensitivity. The usual causes of uveitis include trauma, infection, viruses and other systemic health problems. Sometimes the cause of uveitis is a complete mystery.

According to the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, prior to 2014 there were 8 reported cases in which a change in a tattoo’s appearance was associated with a uveitis diagnosis. In addition, Dr.Trucian Ostheimer and associates at the well-respected Wilmer Eye Institute in Maryland came across 7 cases within a 2 year period in which uveitis symptoms began concurrently with tattoo changes. Specifically, the skin where black ink tattoo had been applied became raised and more firm than normal.

Does this mean that tattooing is causing uveitis? Not necessarily. More research will certainly need to be done to confirm these findings. Until then, if you should happen to go to your eye doctor for an emergency eye problem, remember to report any new physical symptoms as well. Many eye conditions are related to other health issues.

Written by Bart W., Technician with Milwaukee Eye Care