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The Use of Atropine Eye Drops to Treat Uveitis

written by: AngelicaMD • edited by: dianahardin • updated: 5/24/2011

Uveitis is an inflammation of the inner lining of the eye that can cause severe pain and loss of vision. Treatment comes in the form of pain relievers, antibiotics and steroids. Learn more about the role of atropine eye drops in the treatment of uveitis and how these are used properly.

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    What is Uveitis?

    The uvea, or the uveal tract, is the part of the eye which forms the eye's inner pigmented lining. This extends from the iris to the ciliary body to the choroid. When the uvea is inflamed, it is referred to as uveitis or panuveitis, although the inflammation may be limited to a part of it, such as in anterior, intermediate or posterior uveitis.

    Uveitis may affect one or both eyes. The condition is often associated with inflammation of other parts of the body, like the joints. In most cases, the cause of inflammation may not be identified. Possible causes include infections (like herpes, toxoplasmosis and shingles), autoimmune disorders and other inflammatory conditions.

    Depending on the location or areas involved, symptoms may include eye pain, eye redness, sensitivity to light, decreased vision and the sensation of seeing floaters in the eye. Uveitis may occur once or may recur periodically in some. It can cause rapid eye damage, leading to partial or total blindness.

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    Treatment of Uveitis

    Early intervention is necessary to prevent damage that can involve other parts of the eye. Symptomatic treatment for eye pain in the form of nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs may be administered to relieve the severe aching.

    Treatment of eye infection, if present, includes taking appropriate antibiotics. Steroids, in the form of eye drops, are also given to control eye inflammation and prevent further damage that can lead to blindness. Atropine eye drops may also prescribed for uveitis.

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    Eye Drops for Uveitis

    To dilate the eye opening (pupil), atropine eye drops for uveitis are prescribed. Atropine is a mydriatic drug, which widens the opening of the eye to prevent scarring, in the case of anterior uveitis. The iris, which surrounds the eye opening like a ring, constricts and dilates, to allow less or more light into the eye, as in a camera shutter. If left untreated during an inflammation of the anterior uvea, the iris may stick to the lens of the eye, which is behind the pupil. This causes scarring and will lead to immobility of the iris.

    Atropine eye drops lessen the pain and inflammation that occurs with uveitis. They are applied two to four times a day. Care must be used when applying the drops, and these precautions are recommended:

    1. Wash hands thoroughly before using the eye drops. If someone else will apply them to your eyes, they must wash their hands well with soap and water.
    2. When applying the drops, the tip of the dropper must not touch the eyes.
    3. The dropper must be held downward during application, to prevent backflow of the liquid to the bottle.
    4. With the head tilted, the eye must be opened with the lower lid pulled down.
    5. Apply the exact number of drops prescribed into the pocket formed by pulling down the lid. Do not directly on the eyeball, because this can cause a stinging sensation.
    6. Close the eye and press lightly against the lower lid.
    7. Immediately after use, replace the cover of the eye drops and tighten.
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    Side Effects of Atropine Eye Drops

    Atropine is an alkaloid that has systemic effects; it affects not only the eyes but other parts of the body as well, especially the cardiovascular system. Aside from blurred vision and sensitivity to light, it can cause:

    • Increase in heart rate
    • Irregular heart rate
    • Increased body temperature
    • Irritability, nervousness and mental confusion
    • Dry mouth
    • Skin flushing
    • Difficulty in urinating
    • Changes in blood pressure

    These side effects are usually temporary, but if severe or persistent reactions occur, medical consultation must be sought. Atropine must also be used with care in pregnant women, those with a known allergy to it, or patients with glaucoma, cardiovascular disorders and those taking other drugs that may interact with it.

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    References

    Merck Manual. “Uveitis," http://www.merckmanuals.com/home/print/sec20/ch232/ch232a.html.

    Prevent Blindness America. "Treating Uveitis," http://www.preventblindness.org/uveitis/how/treating.html.

    MedlinePlus. “Atropine Ophthalmic," http://www.nlm.nih.gov/medlineplus/druginfo/meds/a682487.html.

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