Woman's Eyeball Rots after Using Homeopathy to Treat Arthritis

A woman's eye started rotting after she stopped using medical treatment for her arthritis in favor of homeopathic therapies, doctors in Spain have reported.

The 73-year-old arrived at an emergency room in Madrid after developing pain in her right eye over the last month. She had a history of rheumatoid arthritis but had stopped using her immunosuppressive treatment in favour of homeopathic therapies four years earlier.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune and inflammatory disease where a person's immune system attacks healthy cells in the body by mistake. This causes painful swelling and normally affects the joints, such as in the hands, wrists and knees. However, it can also affect other parts of the body, including organs like the lungs, heart and eyes.

In a case report published in the NEJM, Natalia Lorenzana Blanco and Nicolas Alejandre Alba, from the Hospital Universitario Fundación Jiménez Díaz, the doctors said an examination showed inflammation, hyperemia—where there is an excess of blood in the vessels supplying the eye—and "marked scleral thinning." This is where the white outer layer of the eyeball gets thinner. In the woman's case, the underlying layer of the eye had become exposed.

necrotizing scleritis
The woman was found to be suffering from necrotizing scleritis, where the white layer of the eyeball rotted away (pictured). The New England Journal of Medicine ©2020

Tests showed elevated levels of rheumatoid factor, suggesting her arthritis was involved. The team diagnosed her with necrotizing scleritis with inflammation. Scleritis is where the sclera becomes swollen, tender or painful. It is common in people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Necrotizing refers to something that causes cells and tissues to die.

In an email to Newsweek, Alejandre Alba said necrotizing scleritis is a "well known manifestation of rheumatoid arthritis."

He said the condition was likely the result of the woman stopping her immunosuppressive treatment for her arthritis. "That seems to be the main cause, since the systemic activity of her rheumatoid arthritis was not controlled and the patient was not taking any effective treatment to control it," he said.

What homeopathic treatment she was using is not known. The patient told the team she had stopped using it before she arrived at the hospital. Alejandre Alba said that when they saw her they were highly concerned with her condition and did not seek specifics about the homeopathic treatment.

The woman was treated for the condition with steroids and an immunosuppressive drug. She had surgery on her eye to repair the damage and started taking treatment for her arthritis again.

"At the follow-up visit three months after surgery, the ocular inflammation and pain had resolved and the patient's vision was preserved," the doctors wrote.