Steroid-Sparing Effect of 0.1% Tacrolimus Eye Drop for Treatment of Shield Ulcer and Corneal Epitheliopathy in Refractory Allergic Ocular Diseases

Ophthalmology. 2017 Mar;124(3):287-294. doi: 10.1016/j.ophtha.2016.11.002. Epub 2016 Dec 22.


Purpose: To evaluate the effects of 0.1% topical tacrolimus alone or in combination with steroids for the treatment of shield ulcers and corneal epitheliopathy in patients with refractory allergic ocular diseases.

Design: Open cohort study.

Participants: Patients with refractory allergic conjunctivitis epitheliopathy, shield ulcers, or corneal plaques (N = 791).

Methods: The 791 patients were treated with topical tacrolimus alone or in combination with topical or oral steroids. The effectiveness of the treatments was determined by a corneal epitheliopathy score during the 3-month follow-up period. The clinical signs were rated on a 4-grade scale. Corneal epitheliopathy with no corneal staining was graded as 0, and shield ulcers or plaques were graded as 3, the highest grade. The effects of tacrolimus with and without topical steroids on the epitheliopathy scores were assessed after adjustments for the severity of the clinical signs and characteristics.

Main outcome measures: Changes in the corneal epitheliopathy score.

Results: Adjusted mean epitheliopathy score at the baseline was 1.73 (95% confidence interval [CI], 1.65-1.81) for patients treated with tacrolimus alone, and this was significantly reduced by -0.93 at 1 month. The reduction of the score by topical and oral steroids was -0.02 for fluorometholone, 0.02 for betamethasone, and -0.02 for oral steroids, and these reductions were not significant compared with the reduction effect of topical tacrolimus alone at -0.93. The 238 patients with shield ulcer (score 3) were analyzed with adjustments, and the mean epitheliopathy score at 1 month was reduced to 1.38 with tacrolimus alone (95% CI, 1.24-1.51), 1.41 (95% CI, 1.26-1.56) with adjuvant fluorometholone, and 1.46 (95% CI, 1.32-1.61) with adjuvant betamethasone. No significant difference was observed in the adjunctive topical steroids. The presence of severe palpebral conjunctival symptoms, including giant papillae, was a significant resisting factor for topical tacrolimus.

Conclusions: The significant effects of topical tacrolimus alone on shield ulcers and corneal epitheliopathy suggest that it may be used without the need for steroids.

MeSH terms

  • Administration, Oral
  • Administration, Topical
  • Adolescent
  • Betamethasone / administration & dosage
  • Betamethasone / therapeutic use
  • Calcineurin Inhibitors / administration & dosage
  • Calcineurin Inhibitors / therapeutic use*
  • Child
  • Cohort Studies
  • Conjunctivitis, Allergic / diagnosis
  • Conjunctivitis, Allergic / drug therapy*
  • Corneal Ulcer / diagnosis
  • Corneal Ulcer / drug therapy*
  • Drug Therapy, Combination
  • Epithelium, Corneal / drug effects*
  • Epithelium, Corneal / pathology
  • Female
  • Fluorometholone / administration & dosage
  • Fluorometholone / therapeutic use
  • Glucocorticoids / administration & dosage
  • Glucocorticoids / therapeutic use*
  • Humans
  • Male
  • Ophthalmic Solutions
  • Retrospective Studies
  • Tacrolimus / administration & dosage
  • Tacrolimus / therapeutic use*
  • Young Adult


  • Calcineurin Inhibitors
  • Glucocorticoids
  • Ophthalmic Solutions
  • Betamethasone
  • Fluorometholone
  • Tacrolimus