Background: Sterile corneal ulceration is a rare complication of rheumatoid arthritis and may lead to corneal perforation. Surgical management for visual restoration frequently is unsuccessful. The authors analyze the factors that may determine the failure of corneal surgery in perforations associated with rheumatoid arthritis.
Method: The management of 29 patients with rheumatoid arthritis with corneal perforations requiring surgical intervention was reviewed. The corneal lesions were classified either as necrotizing keratitis (n = 20) or as ulcers secondary to surface disease (n = 12), depending on the most evident primary pathology. The outcome of different methods for primary repair (i.e., application of tissue adhesive, lamellar graft, or penetrating keratoplasty) and graft survival in penetrating keratoplasties were analyzed.
Results: Fifty-seven corneal procedures were performed in 32 eyes. Primary repair was successful (i.e., no further corneal surgery within 6 months was required) in five eyes (25%) with necrotizing keratitis and in eight eyes (67%) with perforations secondary to surface disease. The application of tissue adhesive, when planned as long-term treatment, was unsuccessful in all five eyes. Immunosuppression significantly improved the survival of first penetrating grafts (42% graft survival after 1 year versus 11% without immunosuppression, P = 0.02). Of 25 graft failures, 20 (80%) were caused by recurrent melts up to 6 months after penetrating keratoplasty. Ocular surface infection was responsible for failure in six of ten grafts after that time.
Conclusion: Complications of corneal surgery in rheumatoid corneal perforations are frequent. The type of surgical procedure, the predominant pathogenic mechanism, and the perioperative immune status influence the outcome. The control of corneal melting and the prevention of surface infection are critical for graft survival.