Objective: To describe patterns of conjunctivitis caused by ophthalmic decongestants.
Design: Case series.
Setting: Outpatient eye clinic.
Patients: We selected patients with conjunctival inflammation who were using nonprescription decongestant eyedrops, who had no other cause for conjunctivitis, and whose conditions improved after discontinuing the incriminated preparations.
Main outcome measures: Clinical characteristics of conjunctival inflammation and time to resolution of symptoms and signs after discontinuing the use of eyedrops.
Results: Seventy patients (137 eyes) were identified. Preparations containing the vasoconstrictors naphazoline, tetrahydrozoline, or phenylephrine were associated with 3 clinical patterns of conjunctivitis: conjunctival hyperemia (50 cases), follicular conjunctivitis (17 cases), and eczematoid blepharoconjunctivitis (3 cases). Decongestants were used daily for a median of 3 years (range, 8 hours to 20 years) prior to presentation. The median time to resolution of symptoms and signs was 4 weeks (range, 1-24 weeks), and patients remained asymptomatic for a median follow-up of 6 months (range, 0-12 years).
Conclusion: Nonprescription decongestant eyedrops can produce acute and chronic forms of conjunctivitis by pharmacological, toxic, and allergic mechanisms. Once recognized, conjunctival inflammation often takes several weeks to resolve.