Recurrent epithelial erosion

21 Recurrent epithelial erosion


A full ophthalmic examination should be performed on both eyes. Conjunctival hyperaemia and increased lacrimation are the typical abnormalities present. The degree of blepharospasm is variable. As with all patients presenting with ocular surface disease, Schirmer tear test readings should be taken from both eyes. It is usual for the affected eye to have a higher reading. The patch of ulceration might be visible with the naked eye but it is important to test both eyes with fluorescein – and to flush the excess away properly with sterile saline. Typically the ulcer has an irregular outline with under-run edges – the fluorescein leaches under the loose epithelium (Figure 21.1). This lip of non-adherent epithelium is pathognomonic for the non-healing ulcer. Also by their nature these ulcers are extremely shallow – it is only the epithelium that is denuded, the stroma remains intact.

There may be evidence of corneal vascularization – fine branching vessels from the limbus nearest to the ulcer (Figure 21.2). If the case is presented late in the course of the disease this vascularization might be abundant, producing an obvious granulation reaction and the owner’s complaint of a red eye. If the case is complicated by secondary bacterial infection, the discharge will be mucopurulent in nature – although usually it is purely serous. Occasionally corneal oedema is present in the ulcerated area and adjacent tissue but this is not usually a particularly obvious clinical sign. Normally there is no intraocular involvement, although mild miosis might be apparent due to a reflex uveitis. This is more likely in long-standing cases, or when the patient seems particularly uncomfortable – the spasm of the iris constrictor muscle will cause ocular pain.


Recurrent epithelial erosions have a variety of synonyms – non-healing ulcer, indolent ulcer, boxer ulcer, refractory corneal ulcer, spontaneous chronic corneal epithelial defect (SCCED) and so on. As the names imply, they are shallow, slow to heal and have a tendency to recur. The condition was originally described in the boxer, and although it remains most commonly seen in this breed it can occur in any breed of dog, particularly middle-aged and older patients. It also occurs in cats – Persians and Burmese breeds are presented more commonly than domestic types.

The condition is thought to represent a corneal epithelial dystrophy characterized by epithelial basal cells which produce an abnormal basement membrane and have reduced numbers of hemidesmosomes for attachment. These two abnormalities have been demonstrated in boxers affected with epithelial erosions. The normal attachment of the epithelium to the underlying stroma is dependent both on the basement membrane (augmented with anchoring fibrils) and on hemidesmosomes, and as such it is easy to understand how abnormalities with both of these structures could lead to epithelial non-attachment. It also explains why the ulcers often develop in the absence of trauma or any other inciting cause, and contributes to the problems sometimes encountered in achieving proper healing.

Histologically, affected dogs have separation of their basal epithelial cells from the underlying basement membrane and there are multiple layers of cells in the adjacent lip of non-adherent epithelium. Both hyperplastic and degenerate cells can be present in this lip of abnormal epithelium, together with inter- and intracellular oedema. The abnormal basement membrane can have splits within it and the adjacent stroma can also contain abnormal hyalinized acellular components.


There are various treatment options available for recurrent epithelial erosions. Normally these will consist of initial medical management but can progress to surgical procedures of varying complexity depending on the response to treatment.

Debridement of any loose epithelium is fundamental to achieving healing. This is normally performed under topical anaesthesia and should be performed on initial presentation – the characteristic lip of non-adherent epithelium needs to be removed before normal adhesion can occur. If the patient is fractious or the eye particularly painful, then sedation might be required; however, this is rarely necessary. One drop of topical anaesthetic is applied (e.g. proxymetacaine) and repeated 5 minutes later. The patient’s head is held still and a dry, preferably sterile, cotton bud is used to remove all loose epithelium. The cotton bud can be gently rubbed over the ulcer and rolled at the edges to pull off the thin, loose tissue (Figure 21.4). Each time the tip becomes moist it should be replaced with a new cotton bud. Normally three to five are required to fully debride the ulcer. This will enlarge the ulcer significantly and it is important to explain this to the owners – it is quite usual to double or even triple the size of the erosion just with simple debridement.

Sep 10, 2016 | Posted by in SMALL ANIMAL | Comments Off on Recurrent epithelial erosion
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