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Scleritis is a rare but potentially severe sight-threatening inflammatory disease of the sclera, which is bilateral in 30-50% of cases. Scleritis can be broadly divided into anterior and posterior sub-types, based on the location of the inflammation relative to the ora serrata. Anterior scleritis can be further sub-divided into diffuse, nodular, and necrotising.

Predisposing factors

Incidence: 3.4 per 100,000 per annum 
Patients are usually in the middle age group (40-60 years)
M:F = 2:3
May be idiopathic, but approximately 30-40% of cases are associated with autoimmune disease, of which, scleritis may be the first presentation:

  • rheumatoid arthritis (most common autoimmune comorbidity)
  • vasculitides, including granulomatosis with polyangiitis (formerly known as Wegener’s granulomatosis), polyarteritis nodosa, giant cell arteritis
  • seronegative spondyloarthropathies, including ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis
  • systemic lupus erythematosus
  • Sjögren’s syndrome
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • relapsing polychondritis

4-10% of scleritis is infectious in origin, e.g.:

  • Herpes Zoster Ophthalmicus
  • Pseudomonas and other bacterial infections
  • fungal and protozoal infections
  • syphilis
  • sarcoidosis
  • tuberculosis

Trauma and surgery: surgery-induced necrotizing scleritis (SINS) is a rare complication of ocular surgery, including pterygiectomy, cataract, and scleral buckling, often associated with infection, especially by Pseudomonas aeruginosa. Drug-induced scleritis is rare but most strongly linked to bisphosphonates.

Symptoms of scleritis

Typically, severe pain (eye ‘ache’ may be referred to brow or jaw) which is often exacerbated by eye movement. Pain may radiate to the face/scalp/ear and may be worse at night (possibly disturbing sleep).
Usually gradual onset over several days
Tenderness of globe
Visual loss
Possible history of previous episodes

Signs of scleritis

Scleritis may involve the anterior sclera, the posterior sclera, or both

Anterior scleritis (90% of all cases of scleritis)

(a) Non-necrotising (75% of all cases of anterior scleritis)

  • usually unilateral
  • hyperaemia of superficial and deep episcleral vessels; does not blanch with vasoconstrictors (e.g. gutt. phenylephrine 2.5%). Deep episcleral vessels do not move with a cotton bud
  • anterior uveitis may be present (in approx. 30%)
  • corneal infiltrates/thinning may be present
  • When inflammation resolved, choroidal pigment may show through thinned sclera as a blue/black colouration
  • approximately 60% are diffuse and 40% nodular (scleral nodule cannot be moved over underlying tissue)

(b) Necrotising (15% of cases)

  • the most severe form (although may occur in the absence of pain or clinical signs of inflammation (scleromalacia perforans). 75% will eventually have visual impairment
  • more common in older patients
  • avascular patches leading to scleral melting with ectasia and choroidal herniation

Posterior scleritis (10% of all cases of scleritis)

Involves sclera posterior to the ora serrata. Eye may be white.
Ophthalmoscopy may show exudative retinal detachment, macular oedema, optic disc oedema, but may also show no abnormality

Differential diagnosis

Episcleritis (see Clinical Management Guideline on Episcleritis)
Other causes of acute red eye

Management by optometrist

Practitioners should work within their scope of practice, and where necessary seek further advice or refer the patient elsewhere
evel of evidence and strength of recommendation always relates to the statement(s) immediately above

Non pharmacological

Sunglasses for photophobia


High dose oral NSAIDS (e.g. flurbiprofen) are the recommended treatment for mild and moderate non-necrotising scleritis. Paracetamol could be used as an alternative for pain relief if NSAIDs are contraindicated

(GRADE*: Level of evidence=low, Strength of recommendation=strong)

Management category

Necrotising Anterior Scleritis and Posterior Scleritis
A2: first aid measures and emergency (same day) referral. Emphasise to the patient the urgency of the condition and instruct them to attend the local hospital eye department or hospital A&E the same day, explaining that you will leave a message so that they are expected. Follow local protocols but where possible telephone the department to explain what you have done, preferably leaving your message with a doctor or other health care professional. 

No intervention except analgesia. 

Non-necrotising Anterior Scleritis
A3 (modified): Initiate pharmacological therapy followed by urgent referral to an ophthalmologist (within one week)

Possible management in secondary care or local primary/community pathways where available

Additional guidance may be available

Investigation for systemic associations
Topical and systemic steroids
Systemic non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs
Systemic immunosuppression (corticosteroids +/- other immunosuppressant drugs, and biologics, e.g. TNFalpha inhibitors)
Anti-microbial therapy in the case of infective scleritis
Imaging (B-scan ultrasonography) to investigate posterior segment involvement
May require referral to, or co-management with, physician/rheumatologist

Evidence base

*GRADE: Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation  (

Sources of evidence

Agrawal R, Lee CS, Gonzalez-Lopez JJ, Khan S, Rodrigues V, Pavesio C. Flurbiprofen: A nonselective cyclooxygenase (COX) inhibitor for treatment of noninfectious, non-necrotizing anterior scleritis. Ocul Immunol Inflamm. 2016;24(1):35-42

Armbrust KR, Kopplin LJ. Characteristics and outcomes of patients with scleritis in the IRIS® Registry (Intelligent Research in Sight) Database. Ophthalmol Sci. 2022;2(3):100178.

Daniel Diaz J, Sobol EK, Gritz DC. Treatment and management of scleral disorders. Surv Ophthalmol. 2016;61(6):702-717

Dutta Majumder P, Agrawal R, McCluskey P, Biswas J. Current approach for the diagnosis and management of noninfective scleritis. Asia Pac J Ophthalmol (Phila). 2020;10(2):212-223.

Oray M, Meese H, Foster CS. Diagnosis and management of noninfectious immune-mediated scleritis: current status and future prospects. Expert Rev Clin Immunol. 2016;12(8):827-37

Sainz de la Maza M, Molina N, Gonzalez-Gonzalez LA, Doctor PP, Tauber J, Foster CS. Clinical characteristics of a large cohort of patients with scleritis and episcleritis. Ophthalmology. 2012;119(1):43-50

Sainz de la Maza M, Molina N, Gonzalez-Gonzalez LA, Doctor PP, Tauber J, Foster CS.Jabs DA, Scleritis therapy. Ophthalmology. 2012;119(1):51-8

Thong LP, Rogers SL, Hart CT, Hall AJ, Lim LL. Epidemiology of episcleritis and scleritis in urban Australia. Clin Exp Ophthalmol. 2020;48(6):757-766

Watson PG, Hayreh SS. Scleritis and episcleritis. Br J Ophthalmol 1976;60:163-91

Wieringa W, Wieringa JE, ten Dam-van Loon NH, Los LI. Visual outcome, treatment results, and prognostic factors in patients with scleritis. Ophthalmology. 2013;120(2):379-86

Xu TT, Reynolds MM, Hodge DO, Smith WM Epidemiology and clinical characteristics of episcleritis and scleritis in Olmsted County, Minnesota. Am J Ophthalmol. 2020 ;217:317-324


What is Scleritis?

Scleritis is a rare, severe inflammation of the sclera (the white part of the eyeball). It usually affects middle aged people, women more than men, around a third of whom have some other form of inflammation, such as rheumatoid arthritis or inflammation of the bowel, or long-standing infection elsewhere in the body. It may affect one or both eyes.

The condition begins gradually and patients experience an aching pain in the eye, which may spread to the brow region or to the jaw. This may be so severe as to cause loss of sleep. Patients may also find lights unbearably bright and the vision may be blurred.

There are two forms of scleritis: anterior scleritis, which makes up 9 out of 10 cases and involves the sclera of the front part of the eye, where the inflammation (redness and swelling) can easily be seen. An even more severe form of anterior scleritis seen in 15% of these cases is known as Necrotising Scleritis, in which the scleral tissue melts away, often without pain; vision is likely to be greatly impaired. One in 10 cases of scleritis takes the form known as posterior scleritis, which affects the sclera of the back part of the eye, so that the front of the eye may appear normal and the optometrist will need to use special instruments to help to make the diagnosis.

How is Scleritis managed?

Scleritis is a serious condition and it is recommended that cases be referred as emergencies to the ophthalmologist, who will usually treat the condition with drugs given by mouth that reduce inflammation and suppress the body’s immune system.

Version 11
Date of search 01.11.23
Date of revision 21.12.23
Date of publication 05.03.24
Date for review 31.10.25
© College of Optometrists