What Is Scleritis?

Scleritis is a painful inflammation (swelling) of the white part of the eye, which is also known as the sclera. The tough, fibrous tissues of the sclera form a protective outer layer for the eye and make up 83 percent of the eye’s surface.

In almost half of all cases, scleritis is associated with an underlying autoimmune disorder such as rheumatoid arthritis.

There are two main types of scleritis: anterior and posterior.

Anterior scleritis, the most common type, affects the front portion of the sclera. There are three types of anterior scleritis:

  • Diffuse scleritis is the most common type and fortunately the most treatable. This type displays widespread redness and inflammation throughout the whole or a portion of the front portion of the sclera.
  • Nodular scleritis, is characterized by the presence of nodules or bumps, often tender to the touch, on the surface of the eye.
  • Necrotizing scleritis is the most severe form of anterior scleritis. It has the ability to destroy scleral tissues and in rare cases may lead to loss of the eye(s). This form is typically characterized by extreme pain and tenderness (although a rare form can occur without pain).

Posterior scleritis, the rarer form, affects the back portion of the eye and often is not related to an underlying systemic disorder. Posterior scleritis can develop on its own or with the anterior form of scleritis. People with this form of scleritis may have pain and tenderness. This form can cause complications resulting in retinal detachment and angle-closure glaucoma.