Case Studies Underscore Ophthalmology's Concerns About Eyeball Tattoos


Eyeball tattoos require "injecting some type of pigment directly under the bulbar conjunctiva with a needle." Obviously, ophthalmologists do not endorse such behavior.

Because eyeball tattoos are not performed by ophthalmologists, experts are concerned about their many short-term risks, and warn that the long term risks could include permanent damage, according to the authors of two recent case studies. Published in American Journal of Ophthalmology Case Reports, two new case studies demonstrate the risks that go along with what the authors call this “relatively new extreme body modification.”

The two case studies are both of Mexican men, one 26 years old and the second 17. Both developed complications after having an eyeball tattoo. The authors say that the cosmetic procedure “involves injecting some type of pigment directly under the bulbar conjunctiva with a needle.”

In the first case report, the authors say, “A 26-year-old Mexican man presented with pain, photophobia, decreased visual acuity and eyelid edema in the right eye two hours after undergoing a green eyeball tattoo and a subconjunctival penicillin injection in a tattoo parlor.” He sought care after his symptoms continued to worsen for four days.

“A clinical diagnosis of orbital cellulitis and posterior scleritis of the right eye was made,” say the authors. The patient was hospitalized and treated with antibiotics, prednisone, and “a right tarsorrhaphy was performed due to conjunctival exposure and after three days the sutures were removed, resulting in clinical improvement,” report the authors.

In the second case report, “A 17-year-old Mexican man, with no significant past medical history and with multiple tattoos was referred for evaluation of scleral nodules in his left eye,” say the authors. He had gotten an orange eyeball tattoo five days earlier. The patient was prescribed corticosteroids and a topical antibiotic, but was lost to follow up.

The authors list multiple risks involved in eyeball tattoos: globe penetration, endophthalmitis, retinal detachment, traumatic cataract, a severe ocular inflammatory reaction, blindness due to ocular inflammation, as well as increased severity of uveitis. They conclude by suggesting, “Regulations prohibiting the practice of these procedures are required, because despite warnings of multiple health risks, more people are looking to get this procedure nowadays.”

The two case studies were written by Gonzalo Duarte of the Eye Clinic for Inflammatory Diseases at the Dr. Luis Sanchez Bulnes Hospital, and colleagues.

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Peter A. Campochiaro, MD: RGX-314 for nAMD | Image Credit: Johns Hopkins Medicine
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