Overview

Ocular rosacea is inflammation that causes redness, burning and itching of the eyes. It often develops in people who have rosacea, a chronic skin condition that affects the face. Sometimes ocular, or eye, rosacea is the first sign that you may later develop the facial type.

Ocular rosacea (roe-ZAY-she-uh) primarily affects adults between the ages of 30 and 50. It seems to develop in people who tend to blush and flush easily.

Medications and a good eye-care routine can help control the signs and symptoms. But treatment doesn't cure ocular rosacea. It often recurs after an apparent remission.

Symptoms

Signs and symptoms of ocular rosacea can precede the skin symptoms of rosacea, develop at the same time, develop later or occur on their own. Signs and symptoms of ocular rosacea may include:

  • Dry eyes
  • Burning or stinging in the eyes
  • Itchy eyes
  • Grittiness or feeling of having a foreign body in the eye or eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • Redness
  • Dilated small blood vessels on the white part of the eye that are visible when you look in a mirror
  • Red, swollen eyelids
  • Tearing

The severity of ocular rosacea symptoms don't always match the severity of skin symptoms.

When to see a doctor

Make an appointment to see a doctor if you have signs and symptoms of ocular rosacea, such as dry eyes, burning or itchy eyes, redness, or blurred vision.

If you've been diagnosed with skin rosacea, ask your doctor whether you should undergo periodic eye exams to check for ocular rosacea.

Causes

The exact cause of ocular rosacea, like skin rosacea, is unknown. It may be due to one or more factors, including:

  • Heredity
  • Environmental factors
  • Bacterial involvement
  • Blocked glands in the eyelids
  • Eyelash mites

A number of factors can aggravate rosacea, so they can aggravate ocular rosacea, as well. Some of these factors include:

  • Hot or spicy foods or beverages
  • Alcohol
  • Sunlight, wind or temperature extremes
  • Certain emotions, such as stress, anger or embarrassment
  • Strenuous exercise
  • Hot baths or saunas
  • Some medications, such as cortisone creams and drugs that dilate blood vessels

Risk factors

Ocular rosacea is common in people with rosacea, although you can also have eye rosacea without the skin being involved. Skin rosacea affects more women than men, and ocular rosacea affects men and women equally. Some studies suggest that among people with rosacea, those who blush easily may be more likely to also develop eye symptoms.

Complications

Ocular rosacea may affect the surface of your eye (cornea), particularly when you have dry eyes from a deficiency of tears. Corneal complications can lead to visual symptoms. Inflammation of your eyelids (blepharitis) can cause secondary irritation of the cornea from misdirected eyelashes or other complications. Ultimately, corneal complications can lead to vision loss.