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Clinical manifestations and diagnosis of scleritis

Reza Dana, MD, MPH, MSc
Section Editor
Jonathan Trobe, MD
Deputy Editor
Paul L Romain, MD


Scleritis is a painful, destructive, and potentially blinding inflammatory disorder of the sclera that may also involve the cornea, adjacent episclera, and underlying uveal tract. Scleritis has a striking, highly symptomatic clinical presentation (picture 1) (see 'Clinical features' below). By contrast, episcleritis is typically self-limited or quickly responsive to topical therapies. (See "Episcleritis".)

Scleritis sometimes occurs in an isolated fashion, without evidence of inflammation in other organs. However, in up to 50 percent of patients, scleritis is associated with an underlying systemic illness such as rheumatoid arthritis or granulomatosis with polyangiitis (Wegener’s) [1] (see 'Systemic disease associations' below). Two-thirds of patients with scleritis require high-dose glucocorticoids or the combination of high-dose glucocorticoids and another immunosuppressive agent to achieve disease control [2]. (See "Treatment of scleritis".)

This topic will review the clinical manifestations and diagnosis of scleritis. The treatment of scleritis, episcleritis, and issues related to other inflammatory disorders of the eye are presented separately. (See "Treatment of scleritis" and "Episcleritis" and "Uveitis: Etiology, clinical manifestations, and diagnosis" and "Ocular manifestations of rheumatoid arthritis" and "Retinal vasculitis associated with systemic disorders and infections".)


The sclera lies beneath the conjunctiva and episclera but above the choroid (figure 1). The opaque scleral tissue is composed of collagen fibrils arranged in a precise, interlacing manner that enhances rigidity and stability. Although the sclera itself is avascular, the tissue derives its metabolic requirements by diffusion from the episclera and choroid, both of which are highly vascularized.

The sclera comprises 90 percent of the outer coat of the eye. Scleral tissue begins at the limbus (the outer edge of the cornea) and terminates posteriorly at the optic canal. At the posterior pole of the eye, the sclera fuses with the dura mater and arachnoid sheaths of the optic nerve. These anatomic relationships explain why optic nerve edema and visual compromise are common complications of posterior scleritis (picture 2). (See 'Clinical features' below.)


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Literature review current through: Sep 2016. | This topic last updated: Apr 7, 2016.
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