5 Hydroxychloroquine Side Effects On The Eye

Hydroxychloroquine was first synthesized in 1946 by the French researcher, Jean Sterne. The drug was originally developed as a treatment for malaria and was found to be more effective and have fewer side effects than chloroquine.

The drug was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for some conditions in the 1950s and 1960s, respectively. Hydroxychloroquine (HCQ) is used to treat a variety of conditions, including:

1.        Malaria: HCQ is commonly used to prevent and treat malaria, a parasitic infection transmitted by mosquitoes. It works by killing the parasites that cause the infection.

2.        Rheumatoid arthritis: HCQ is often used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, a chronic autoimmune disorder that affects the joints. It works by reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune system.

3.        Lupus: HCQ is also used to treat systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), a chronic autoimmune disorder that can affect the skin, joints, and other organs. Like in rheumatoid arthritis, it works by reducing inflammation and suppressing the immune system.

4.        Sjogren’s syndrome: HCQ is sometimes used to treat Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disorder that affects the glands that produce saliva and tears. It can help reduce dryness of the mouth and eyes.

5.        COVID-19: HCQ has been investigated as a potential treatment for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the SARS-CoV-2 virus. However, its effectiveness for this purpose is still under debate, and it is not currently recommended for routine use in COVID-19 patients.

6.        Other conditions: HCQ has also been used to treat other conditions, such as porphyria cutanea tarda (a disorder that affects the skin) and Q fever (a bacterial infection).

While it is generally well-tolerated, like any medication, it can cause side effects. In rare cases, HCQ has been associated with adverse effects on the eyes. In this article, we will examine the possible side effects of HCQ on the eyes in detail.

How it works

HCQ is a medication that belongs to a class of drugs called antimalarials. It works by interfering with the growth and reproduction of parasites and also has immunomodulatory effects that can help reduce inflammation in certain autoimmune conditions.

Hydroxychloroquine Side Effects On The Eye

One of the possible side effects of HCQ is an increased risk of retinopathy, a condition that affects the retina, the part of the eye that detects light and sends signals to the brain. Retinopathy can cause vision loss and, in some cases, blindness. While retinopathy is a well-known complication of HCQ, it is relatively rare and occurs in less than 1% of people who take the medication.

The risk of retinopathy increases with the duration of treatment and the cumulative dose of HCQ. For this reason, it is important for people who take HCQ to have regular eye exams to monitor their eye health. The American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends that people who take HCQ have a baseline eye exam within the first year of starting the medication and then have annual eye exams thereafter.

HCQ retinopathy typically affects the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision. The early stages of retinopathy may be asymptomatic or may cause mild visual disturbances such as blurry vision or difficulty reading. As the condition progresses, it can cause more significant vision loss.

The mechanism by which HCQ causes retinopathy is not well understood. It is thought to be related to the accumulation of the medication in the retinal pigment epithelium, which can lead to oxidative damage and cell death.

In addition to retinopathy, HCQ has been associated with other adverse effects on the eyes. These include corneal deposits, which are tiny yellowish-white spots that can form on the surface of the cornea, the clear outer layer of the eye. Corneal deposits are generally benign and do not affect vision, but can be a sign of long-term HCQ use.

HCQ can also cause cataracts, a condition in which the lens of the eye becomes cloudy and can cause vision loss. Cataracts are a common condition that can affect anyone, but they occur more frequently in people who take medications like HCQ over a long period of time.

Less commonly, HCQ has been associated with optic neuritis, a condition in which the optic nerve, which connects the eye to the brain, becomes inflamed. Optic neuritis can cause vision loss and pain in the eye. However, this side effect is rare and has been reported only in isolated cases.

If you are taking HCQ and are concerned about the potential effects on your eyes, it is important to speak with your doctor. They can help you understand the risks and benefits of the medication and may recommend regular eye exams to monitor your eye health. If you develop any symptoms such as blurry vision or difficulty reading, it is important to seek medical attention promptly.

In conclusion, HCQ is a medication that can be effective in treating a variety of conditions, but it is important to be aware of the potential side effects on the eyes. Retinopathy is a rare but serious complication of HCQ use, and regular eye exams are important for monitoring eye health. Other adverse effects on the eyes, such as corneal deposits and cataracts, are generally benign but can be a sign of long-term


Dr. Oche Otorkpa PG Cert, MPH, PhD

Dr. Oche is a seasoned Public Health specialist who holds a post graduate certificate in Pharmacology and Therapeutics, an MPH, and a PhD both from Texila American University. He is a member of the International Society of Substance Use Professionals and a Fellow of the Royal Society for Public Health in the UK. He authored two books: "The Unseen Terrorist," published by AuthorHouse UK, and "The Night Before I Killed Addiction."
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