A partnership between ophthalmologists and dermatologists holds the potential to produce a better treatment for ocular rosacea, one of the few conditions that brings the two specialties together.
“Hopefully, the paradigm eventually shifts from treating symptoms and signs of ocular rosacea with oral antibiotics or reflexive referral to ophthalmology to approaching cutaneous treatment first,” said dermatologist Kara Capriotti, MD , who has been working with a team of ophthalmologists to develop a treatment that focuses on ocular rosacea as a “lid disease,” instead of as a primary ocular surface problem.
An estimated 16 million people in the United States have rosacea, according to the National Rosacea Society , and researchers have estimated that rosacea affects the eye in 58%-72% of patients ( US Ophthalmic Review. 2013;6:86-8 ). A 2016 Rosacea Society survey of 615 people with rosacea found that up to 92% reported eye symptoms that included irritation, grittiness, or dryness, and 86% reported watery or bloodshot eyes – symptoms that most said started after they developed rosacea. That said, 72% said they had never been treated specifically for ocular rosacea.
Eye scrubs, artificial tears, stress relief measures, and antibiotics are among the treatments used for the condition, which, however, can be treatment-resistant.
Dr. Capriotti, who practices in Rosemont, Pa., began developing topical treatments with colleagues who have backgrounds in drug development and ophthalmology, considering the eyelid skin as a target. “The idea of treating blepharitis/ocular rosacea through the skin comes directly out of this progression and the collaboration between a dermatologist looking at the disease as a skin disease and the ophthalmologists … seeing a new way to think about an ocular surface problem that has its root cause in the lid,” she explained in an interview.
The key, she believes, is to move from a focus on ocular symptoms to an emphasis on lid and skin signs associated with ocular rosacea. “Almost all of the ophthalmology approaches to the disease start at the ocular surface, and these surface treatments are always a little bit [or very] toxic to the ocular surface,” she said. “By treating the lid signs first through a topical approach through the closed lid, we can eliminate a lot of the ocular surface symptoms without ever touching the ocular surface, thus preventing a lot of the associated toxicity and side effects you commonly see with topical ophthalmics.”
Dr. Capriotti and her colleagues have developed a topical treatment that contains dimethyl sulfoxide (DMSO) combined with dilute povidone iodine, which is applied to the lid margin of the closed eye.
In 2015, they published a case report describing the successful use of the treatment for a 78-year-old man with rosacea blepharoconjunctivitis, who had failed oral and topical treatments. He was treated with povidone iodine 10% solution in a DMSO vehicle, which was compounded into a topical gel by a pharmacy and administered twice a day, rubbed onto the lash line and eyelid.
After one week, “remarkable improvements were noted,” with reversal of much of the conjunctivitis, anterior lid erythema, and thickening, they wrote. One month later, after once daily application, “not only were the initial improvements conserved, but the posterior lid margin vessels and telangiectasias had begun to attenuate and involute. Moreover, meibomian capping was no longer present, secretions were less viscous, and tear break-up time normalized.”
DMSO is a skin penetration agent that is rarely used in ophthalmology and povidone iodine is a biocidal agent used in eye care, they pointed out in the case report. “This novel therapy may warrant further investigation in randomized, controlled clinical trials,” they concluded ( Ophthalmol Ther. 2015 Dec;4:143-50 ).
There are plans to start a clinical trial later in 2017, according to Dr. Capriottis, the cofounder of Veloce Biopharma, a company that is developing this product.
Until more specific treatments are available, what can dermatologists do now to improve their care of patients with ocular rosacea? “First and foremost, you have to be comfortable looking at the eyelids and ruling out anything that could be masquerading as blepharitis,” Dr. Capriotti commented. “We have a big disadvantage in dermatology because we don’t use slit-lamp biomicroscopy, but we are pretty good at looking at skin. If the patient has a lot of extraocular rosacea signs, I definitely think dermatologists can manage the prescription of a topical for the lids and evaluate the response.”
She cautioned, however, that referrals are in order in several situations: cases that are severe, those that involve the eye only, and those with which ocular symptoms seem to outweigh the lid signs.
Dr. Capriotti is also the senior vice president of dermatology at Veloce. In the study published in 2015, she and her three coauthors disclosed having financial interest in ALC Therapeutics, a company that was dissolved and restructured into Veloce.