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Papers of the Week

2019 Nov


38 Suppl 1

Pain, Dryness, and Itch Sensations in Eye Surface Disorders Are Defined By a Balance Between Inflammation and Sensory Nerve Injury.


Patients with corneal and conjunctival disorders report an array of ocular surface symptoms including stinging, foreign body sensation, and itching. The intensity and perceptual quality of these sensations and their duration, from brief intervals to long-term symptoms, also vary. We hypothesize that symptomatic differences across disorders reflect differences in the balance between ocular inflammation and nerve injury, with different conditions resulting from predominant effects of one of these, or a combined effect. This article provides an overview of corneal and conjunctival nerve cells, such as nociceptors and thermoreceptors, with descriptions of their morphological and molecular characteristics and their nerve-firing patterns and evoked sensations, as determined by earlier studies in animals and humans. Detailed descriptions of the changes in neuronal responses (such as abnormal responsiveness and spontaneous firing) due to local inflammation and nerve injury are provided, and assorted ocular surface disorders are discussed. Eye conditions in which inflammation is predominant include allergic conjunctivitis and photokeratitis, whereas nerve injury is the primary factor underlying complaints of dry eye after photorefractive keratectomy and in elderly patients. Both factors contribute substantially to dry eye disease and varicella-zoster infections. This model of the combined effects of inflammation and nerve injury serves to explain the different sensations reported in various eye surface disorders, including short-term versus chronic pain and dysesthesias, and may help to improve diagnoses and treatment methods.