The Mydriatic Red Eye as the Initial Presentation of Syphilis



      Syphilis is a sexually transmitted infection that has been increasing in prevalence since the early 2000s. Ocular involvement occurs in a minority of patients and must be in the differential diagnosis for patients who present with red eye and uveitis.

      Case Report

      A 29-year-old woman presented to the emergency department with a painful, mydriatic red eye. Review of systems revealed a rash as well as a recent genital lesion and, on further questioning, she admitted to a history of intravenous drug use and high-risk sexual activity. Ophthalmology was consulted and the patient was diagnosed with bilateral uveitis. Serologic testing was positive for syphilis, and she was admitted and treated with intravenous penicillin, with resolution of her uveitis.

      Why Should an Emergency Physician Be Aware of This?

      Red eye is a common ocular symptom in patients presenting to the emergency department. The differential diagnosis of the red eye is broad and can range from benign etiologies, such as conjunctivitis, to life- and sight-threatening conditions, such as endogenous endophthalmitis. Systemic diseases such as syphilis may present with primarily ocular symptoms, and ocular syphilis must be identified and managed appropriately to prevent devastating sequelae.


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