Protecting Your Eyesight When Taking Plaquenil

Submitted by Elman Retina Group on January 13, 2021

Retinal Health Doctor in BaltimoreOriginally developed to fight malaria, Plaquenil (hydroxychloroquine sulfate) is now used to treat inflammatory and autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome. Although the drug has helped a tremendous number of people by lowering the immune system’s ability to cause inflammation, it is known to have some rare but serious systemic health effects. Of particular concern to the doctors at Elman Retina Group is the risk of retinal toxicity. In rare cases, Plaquenil can permanently damage the retina and cause irreversible vision loss.

How Does Plaquenil Affect the Eyes?

Plaquenil is believed to cause changes in the pigment of the macula, or the central portion of the retina responsible for clear, sharp central vision. The macula is also responsible for most of our color vision and it allows us to see fine detail.

Plaquenil binds to retinal pigment cells, causing adverse changes in vision that occur slowly over time. Objects may start to appear blurry or distorted. In the most serious cases of Plaquenil-induced retinal toxicity, the macula is completely destroyed.

Factors that increase the risk of retinal damage from Plaquenil include the following:

  • Being 60 years old or older
  • Taking Plaquenil at high doses
  • Taking Plaquenil for five years or more
  • Losing a significant amount of weight while taking the medication
  • Pre-existing kidney or liver disease
  • Pre-existing retinal disease

How To Protect Your Eyesight

If you take Plaquenil for an autoimmune or inflammatory disorder, there are steps you can take to protect your eyes from complications.

Get Regular Eye Exams

The most important thing you can do is see your ophthalmologist regularly for comprehensive dilated eye exams. The doctor will check your retina for signs of a problem, perform certain visual field tests and take retinal photographs. If any issues are found, they can be addressed before serious and permanent damage occurs.

Ideally, you should have an eye exam before starting Plaquenil medication to get a “baseline” of your retinal health. After that, the American Academy of Ophthalmology recommends annual dilated eye exams beginning after five years of taking Plaquenil or sooner with major risk factors.

Take Your Medication as Prescribed

Taking Plaquenil at higher doses than recommended can increase the risk of retinal damage. Take your medication as prescribed by your doctor.

Don’t Ignore Changes in Your Vision

Early detection of any problems is key. If you notice a change in your central or color vision or have trouble seeing at night, promptly schedule an evaluation with your eye doctor. Regular use of an Amsler grid is recommended as well.

For more information about the link between Plaquenil and retinal problems, Elman Retina Group is a trusted resource with an extensive history of doing Plaquenil eye exams on a daily basis using the latest state of the art imaging modalities. Call or email our team today.