Taking Action

Could your tattoo blind you? The link between ink and a rare eye condition

Chesterfield County

CHESTERFEILD COUNTY, Va. (WRIC) — Chesterfield resident Antwonna Wilson got her first tattoo when she was 16-years-old. Her mother Lisa Abbott took her to get it, something she now feels guilty about.

“I regret getting a tattoo,” she told 8News.

However, over the years the now 26-year-old woman has gotten several more tattoos, something Wilson she and her mother never imagined would one day take away her vision. Wilson described what her vision is like today.

“I can’t see your facial features, it’s just blurry. But in my left eye, I can’t see at all,” explained Wilson.

It started about two years ago, Wilson was at work when suddenly her eyes started to bother her.

“It felt like I had a piece of hair in it,” she said.

Wilson went to an urgent care, but abbot said they kept telling her it was pink eye. After three or four visits to the urgent care, it wasn’t getting any better. And then, it took a turn for the worse.

“One morning I woke up and didn’t have any vision so mama had to rush me to the emergency room,” Wilson said. “It was really scary, I was panicking.”

The furthest thing from her mind was a connection between her eye troubles and her body art. Yet that’s what an area eye specialist concluded.

“They told us it was an allergic reaction to the black ink,” Abbott said. The optometrist diagnosed Wilson with “tattoo-associated uveitis.”

That actually is very, very rare,” explained Doctor Jenny Alsop.

Alsop is not Wilson’s doctor but the optometrist with Midlothian Optometric Center in Chesterfield is familiar with the condition.

Uveitis, ‘itis,’ often in the medical term comes from inflammation or infection,” she said.

Dr. Alsop said uveitis is the inflammation of the middle layer of the eye. While doctors and researchers say there are still a lot of unknowns, they have found a link between tattoos specifically, black ink tattoos, and uveitis.

“In the few cases that have been documented the uveitis occurred several months after that tattoo so that’s another hurdle in the diagnosis,” Alsop said. “You don’t often think of something you did six months ago causing a health issue. It had been at least year since Wilson’s last tattoo. “We’re not even sure which tattoo caused it, they don’t know.”

Tattoo- associated uveitis was first detected in the 1950’s but in the last few years there’s been a flurry of case studies and advice for doctors to watch out for it.

The assumption is the tattoo ink may trigger an underlying autoimmune disease known as sarcoidosis which African-Americans tend to be at higher risk for. In Wilson’s case her tattoos have also became inflamed, dry and itchy.

Dr. Alsop says signs and symptoms of uveitis are extreme sensitivity to light, redness, a dull pain and blurred vision. The condition is often treated with steroids. She says it left untreated- blindness can occur.

“So it is very important for anybody with red eye, pink eye, medical eye issues to visit their own doctor of optometry to get it checked out,” Alsop said. “You know, we like to look at the eye underneath the microscope.”

Wilson now takes daily dose of medication and eye drops. She said it’s a struggle to care for her young daughter who sometimes doesn’t understand when mom doesn’t feel well.

“When your eyes ache, your head hurts. I can’t do anything,” Wilson said.

Abbott say she and her daughter want to share their story to warning others this could happen to them.

“I don’t want nobody else’s child to go through this,” said Abbott.

Wilson is undergoing surgery this week. Her doctors are hopeful after surgery they can restore her vision with the help of glasses.


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