Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis (AKC)

The CMGs are guidelines on the diagnosis and management of a range of common and rare, but important, eye conditions that present with varying frequency in primary and first contact care.

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Aetiology 

  • Severe ocular surface disease affecting some atopic individuals
  • Complex immunopathology
  • Sometimes follows childhood Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis (VKC) (see Clinical Management Guideline on Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis)

Predisposing factors 

  • Typically affects young adult atopic males
  • There may be a history of asthma, hay fever, eczema and atopic dermatitis and VKC in childhood
  • Specific allergens may exacerbate the condition
  • There are associations with facial eczema and staphylococcal lid margin disease

Symptoms

  • Ocular itching, watering, usually bilateral
  • Blurred vision, photophobia
  • White stringy mucoid discharge
  • Onset of ocular symptoms may occur several years after onset of atopy
  • Symptoms usually year-round, with exacerbations

Signs 

  • Eyelids may be thickened, crusted and fissured
  • Associated chronic staphylococcal blepharitis
  • Tarsal conjunctiva:
    • giant papillary hypertrophy
    • subepithelial scarring and shrinkage
  • Entire conjunctiva hyperaemic
  • Limbal inflammation
  • Corneal involvement is common and may be sight-threatening:
    • beginning with punctate epitheliopathy that may progress to macro-erosion
    • plaque formation (usually upper half)
    • progressive corneal subepithelial scarring, neovascularisation and thinning
  • These patients are prone to develop herpes simplex keratitis, corneal ectasia such as keratoconus, atopic (anterior or posterior polar) cataracts, retinal detachment 

Differential diagnosis

  • Vernal Keratoconjunctivitis
  • Other allergic conjunctivitis, eg Giant Papillary Conjunctivitis (GPC) (often contact lens-related)
  • Toxic Keratoconjunctivitis

Management by optometrist 

Practitioners should recognise their limitations and where necessary seek further advice or refer the patient elsewhere 

GRADE Level of evidence and strength of recommendation always relates to the statement(s) immediately above

Non pharmacological 
  • Lid hygiene and treatment of associated staphylococcal blepharitis (see Clinical Management Guideline on Blepharitis)
  • Cool compresses
  • Advise avoidance of specific allergens if known, e.g. elimination of pets and carpeting, where necessary; instillation of air filtering devices and alterations to bedding materials

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

Pharmacological 
  • Systemic antihistamines e.g. cetirizine
  • Topical mast cell stabilisers, e.g. gutt. sodium cromoglicate 2%, gutt. lodoxamide 0.1%, gutt. nedocromil sodium 2%, or dual acting agents e.g. olopatadine 0.1%, may also provide symptomatic relief

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

Management category

Severe corneal complications are common and potentially sightthreatening.
If corneal epithelial macro-erosion or plaque are present:

  • A3: First aid measures followed by urgent referral (within one week) to an Ophthalmologist

Milder cases (without active corneal involvement):

  • B1: Possible prescription of drugs; routine referral

Possible management by ophthalmologist

  • Topical steroids with monitoring and management of complications, eg steroid glaucoma and cataract
  • Topical/systemic antibiotic for lids
  • Topical immunosuppression (e.g. ciclosporin) (see evidence base)
  • Treatment of facial eczema and atopic blepharitis
  • Surgery for atopic cataract 

Evidence base 

*GRADE: Grading of Recommendations Assessment, Development and Evaluation (www.gradeworkinggroup.org)

Sources of evidence

Brémond-Gignac D, Nischal KK, Mortemousque B, Gajdosova E, Granet DB, Chiambaretta F. Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis in Children: Clinical Features and Diagnosis. Ophthalmology. 2016;123(2):435-7


Chen JJ, Applebaum DS, Sun GS, Pflugfelder SC. Atopic keratoconjunctivitis: a review. J Am Acad Dermatol. 2014;70(3):569-75


González-López JJ, López-Alcalde J, Morcillo Laiz R, Fernández Buenaga R, Rebolleda Fernández G. Topical cyclosporine for atopic keratoconjunctivitis. Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews 2012;9:CD009078


Nivenius E, Montan P. Spontaneous corneal perforation associated with atopic keratoconjunctivitis: a case series and literature review. Acta Ophthalmol. 2015;93(4):383-7


Power WJ, Tugal-Tutkun I, Foster CS. Long-term follow-up of patients with atopic keratoconjunctivitis. Ophthalmology. 1998;105:637-42

Lay summary

Atopic keratoconjunctivitis is a chronic (long-term) allergic condition of the eyelids and front surface of the eye. It is present in a high percentage of patients who have the skin condition, atopic dermatitis.

Atopic keratoconjunctivitis requires long-term treatment to prevent sight-threatening complications such as scarring of the cornea (the clear window at the front of the eye). In the early stages of the disease, symptoms can be controlled by standard anti-allergy drugs. However, short- term use of steroid eye drops is often required when symptoms are severe.

There is some evidence that cases that do not respond to steroids, or those requiring steroids eye drops long term, may benefit from ciclosporin eye drops or ointment.

Atopic Keratoconjunctivitis (AKC)
Version 13 
Date of search 20.07.16 
Date of revision 22.12.16
Date of publication 01.06.17
Date for review 19.07.18
© College of Optometrists 

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