What does hydroxychloroquine do to your eyes?

Hydroxychloroquine tablet is a medication primarily used to treat malaria and certain autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus. While hydroxychloroquine is generally well-tolerated, it can cause ocular side effects, particularly when used long-term at high doses. The most serious ocular side effect associated with hydroxychloroquine is retinopathy, which can lead to irreversible vision loss if not detected and managed promptly. Let’s explore in detail the effects of hydroxychloroquine on the eyes, supported by research.

Mechanism of Action:

Hydroxychloroquine is believed to exert its therapeutic effects by interfering with various cellular processes, including lysosomal function, antigen presentation, and cytokine production. It also has immunomodulatory properties that make it effective in treating autoimmune diseases. However, the exact mechanism by which hydroxychloroquine causes ocular toxicity is not fully understood. buy hydroxychloroquine online at dosepharmacy

Ocular Side Effects:

  1. Retinopathy: The most significant ocular side effect of hydroxychloroquine is retinopathy, which involves damage to the retina, the light-sensitive tissue at the back of the eye. Hydroxychloroquine-induced retinopathy typically manifests as a progressive bilateral loss of central vision, with characteristic changes observed on retinal examination and imaging studies.
  2. Maculopathy: Hydroxychloroquine retinopathy primarily affects the macula, the central part of the retina responsible for sharp, central vision. Early signs of hydroxychloroquine-induced maculopathy may include subtle changes in color vision, decreased visual acuity, and alterations in the appearance of the macula on retinal imaging.
  3. Bull’s Eye Maculopathy: In advanced cases of hydroxychloroquine retinopathy, characteristic bull’s eye lesions may develop in the macula, presenting as a central area of retinal pigment epithelial atrophy surrounded by a ring of hyperpigmentation. Bull’s eye maculopathy is considered a hallmark feature of hydroxychloroquine toxicity.

Risk Factors:

Several factors increase the risk of developing hydroxychloroquine-induced retinopathy:

  • Duration of Use: Long-term use of hydroxychloroquine, particularly at doses exceeding 5 mg/kg of actual body weight, is associated with an increased risk of retinopathy.
  • Cumulative Dose: Higher cumulative doses of hydroxychloroquine over time are associated with a greater risk of retinopathy.
  • Renal Impairment: Patients with impaired kidney function may be at increased risk of hydroxychloroquine toxicity due to reduced drug clearance from the body.

Screening Guidelines:

To minimize the risk of hydroxychloroquine-induced retinopathy, regular ophthalmic monitoring is recommended for patients receiving long-term treatment with the medication:

  • Baseline Examination: Ophthalmic evaluation, including visual acuity testing, dilated fundus examination, and imaging studies such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) and fundus autofluorescence (FAF), should be performed before initiating hydroxychloroquine therapy.
  • Regular Follow-up: Patients should undergo annual ophthalmic examinations to monitor for signs of retinopathy, including changes in visual acuity, visual fields, and retinal imaging findings.
  • Dose Adjustment: Hydroxychloroquine dosage may need to be adjusted or discontinued if signs of retinopathy develop or worsen over time.

Symptoms of Retinopathy:

Patients with hydroxychloroquine-induced retinopathy may initially be asymptomatic or experience subtle visual changes that progress over time. Common symptoms include blurred or decreased central vision, difficulty reading or focusing, and changes in color perception. These symptoms may be overlooked or attributed to other causes, underscoring the importance of regular ophthalmic monitoring.

Risk Factors for Retinopathy Development:

In addition to duration of use, cumulative dose, and renal impairment, other risk factors for hydroxychloroquine-induced retinopathy include older age, pre-existing retinal disease, concurrent use of tamoxifen or other retinotoxic medications, and genetic predisposition. Patients with risk factors may require more frequent ophthalmic evaluations or lower doses of hydroxychloroquine to minimize the risk of retinal toxicity.

Early Detection Methods:

Ophthalmic screening for hydroxychloroquine retinopathy typically involves a combination of visual acuity testing, fundus examination, visual field testing (e.g., automated perimetry), and retinal imaging modalities such as optical coherence tomography (OCT) and fundus autofluorescence (FAF). These tests can help detect subtle retinal changes indicative of early-stage retinopathy before irreversible vision loss occurs.

Management of Retinopathy:

If hydroxychloroquine-induced retinopathy is suspected or confirmed, treatment primarily involves discontinuation of the medication to prevent further retinal damage. In some cases, vision loss may be irreversible despite cessation of hydroxychloroquine therapy. Patients with advanced retinopathy may require referral to a retinal specialist for further evaluation and management, including consideration of low-vision rehabilitation services.

Patient Education:

Healthcare providers should educate patients receiving hydroxychloroquine therapy about the importance of regular ophthalmic monitoring and adherence to prescribed dosing regimens. Patients should be encouraged to report any changes in vision or visual symptoms promptly to their healthcare provider to facilitate early detection and intervention for ocular complications.

Alternative Therapies:

In cases where hydroxychloroquine therapy is contraindicated or poorly tolerated due to ocular side effects, alternative treatments for malaria and autoimmune diseases may be considered. These may include other antimalarial medications such as chloroquine or quinine, as well as immunosuppressive agents or biologic therapies for autoimmune conditions. The choice of alternative therapy should be guided by the specific clinical indications and individual patient factors.


Hydroxychloroquine is associated with ocular side effects, particularly retinopathy, which can lead to irreversible vision loss if not detected and managed promptly. Healthcare providers should be aware of the risk factors for hydroxychloroquine-induced retinopathy and adhere to recommended screening guidelines to ensure early detection and intervention. Patients receiving long-term hydroxychloroquine therapy should undergo regular ophthalmic monitoring to minimize the risk of ocular toxicity and preserve visual function.

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