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Eye Tattoos: Know the Risks

Posted on March 13th, 2020
Eye Tattoos: Know the Risks

In January 2020, the Saskatchewan government passed new legislation that banned eye tattooing. This type of procedure can come with risks and potential complications. Optometrists agree this legislation is in the best interest of the public. Our own Dr. Barbara Patterson, an optometrist at two FYidoctors clinics in Saskatoon, suggests individuals thinking about this kind of tattoo, “reconsider since the risk is just too high.”

To develop awareness on the potential dangers, we’ve put together a list of side effects that could arise after an eye tattoo procedure:

Potential Risks of Eye Tattooing

1. Temporary bleeding at the injection site

2. Foreign body sensation

3. Light sensitivity

4. Chronic red eye from mechanical irritation

5. Perforation of the eye

6. Retinal Detachment

7. Endophthalmitis (infection and inflammation inside the eye)

8. Autoimmune response/reaction to the ink

9. Transmission of blood borne diseases (Hep B&C, HIV from poorly sterilized equipment).

While of course these will likely not all occur simultaneously, optometrists have seen one or more complications like these after a patient receives a tattoo on their eye. Treatment options are available, although, Dr. Patterson notes, “eye perforations and retinal detachments can occur and for the most part can be treated effectively by a surgeon, although recovery likely would not be 100%. Endophthalmitis can be treated but has a greater risk of visual loss and potential enucleation (removal of the eye). The milder complications can be managed but may become chronic.”

There are many uncertainties in terms of treatment, and it may not be worth the risk. While tattoos can be a beautiful form of expression, a tattoo in an eye would potentially not have the same desired effect as on skin.

“It's my understanding that the ink is injected into the space between the conjunctiva and the underlying episclera using several injection sites. The ink then spreads to fill in the spaces. Ink would also start to pool in spots where the conjunctiva is looser— or just due to gravity— and I suspect that the affect the patient is looking for may not turn out as expected,” Dr. Patterson adds.

If you have any concerns—eye tattoo-related or otherwise—don’t hesitate to make an appointment at your nearest FYidoctors clinic.