Episcleritis refers to inflammation of episcleral tissue. The episclera is a thin layer of tissue in the eye. When it becomes inflamed, it can cause soreness and irritation of the eye.

The human eye is a sensory organ consisting of many different structures that work together to allow vision. One of the layers of tissue in the eye is known as the episclera.

When inflammation occurs in episcleral tissue, it is known as episcleritis. There is not always a known cause for episcleritis, but it may relate to other conditions that cause inflammation throughout the body. Episcleritis does not typically affect vision and usually resolves by itself. However, it can still cause discomfort and make the eye appear red.

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The outer surface of the human eye consists of three layers. These are:

  • the sclera, which is the white of the eye
  • the conjunctiva, which is a transparent membrane
  • the episclera, which is the transparent layer between the sclera and conjunctiva

The episclera is a thin layer of connective tissue containing many blood vessels that nourish the sclera. The term episcleritis refers to inflammation of the episclera. This inflammation can cause the eye to appear red and irritated.

Episcleritis is different from scleritis and conjunctivitis. Each condition describes inflammation of a different layer of the eye. For example, scleritis is often more painful than episcleritis and may affect vision. Conjunctivitis usually occurs due to an allergy or pathogen, while episcleritis is often idiopathic, meaning the cause is unknown.

Some health experts propose that episcleritis may occur due to microangiopathy. This term refers to a problem with small blood vessels, such as those in the eye.

Episcleritis is a fairly common condition that typically affects females more frequently than males. Evidence also suggests it is more prevalent in people who are in their 30s and 40s. Possible risk factors for episcleritis may include:

  • being tired
  • reading or working for long periods on computers
  • being in a dry, dusty environment

Some evidence also suggests that roughly one-third of episcleritis cases may relate to an underlying inflammatory condition. These may include:

Typically, the symptoms of episcleritis may include:

  • redness
  • pain
  • sensitivity to light
  • tenderness
  • watering of the eye

Redness is the main symptom of episcleritis. It may appear in one section of the eye or across the whole eye. Typically, episcleritis is only present in one eye, but it can occur in both eyes simultaneously. Usually, these symptoms will not affect vision. They may also resolve on their own after a few weeks and return several months later.

Typically, diagnosis of episcleritis will involve a slit lamp eye examination.

A slit lamp is a microscope that uses a bright light. This allows an eye doctor to closely examine the different structures at the front and inside of the eye.

A person will not need to prepare anything before a slit lamp exam but will require dilating eye drops to help widen the pupil in the eye. So it is not advisable for a person to drive after this exam.

A doctor will ask the person to sit in the chair in front of the slit lamp and place their chin in the chin rest and their forehead against the forehead band. This will help keep their head steady during the exam. The doctor will then focus a narrow, high intensity beam of light toward the eye to help them examine it.

During this test, the doctor will look for areas of inflammation in the eye.

In many cases, episcleritis will resolve on its own. However, if it is recurrent, causes discomfort, or the appearance of red eye bothers a person, they can consult a doctor about treatment options. These may include:

Typically, inflammation will improve within about 14 days.

A potential complication of episcleritis is that it may progress to scleritis. Symptoms of scleritis are typically similar to episcleritis but more painful. Scleritis can also result in vision problems. Treatment for scleritis may involve oral steroids and immunosuppressive drug therapy.

If pain worsens or a person suspects scleritis, it is advisable to contact a doctor.

Episcleritis describes inflammation of the episclera, which is a part of the eye. In most cases, there is no known cause for this inflammation. Due to the inflammation, the most common symptoms of episcleritis are redness and pain in the eye.

A doctor can diagnose episcleritis using a slit lamp exam. In most cases, treatment may not be necessary for episcleritis. However, if it causes significant redness or irritation, eye drops and anti-inflammatory drugs may help to reduce symptoms.