Hydroxychloroquine sulfate retinopathy can progress after the drug is stopped. It is not clear how this relates to the stage of retinopathy or whether early screening with modern imaging technology can prevent progression and visual loss.
To determine the relationship between progression of retinopathy and the severity of disease using objective data from optical coherence tomography and assess the value of early screening for the toxic effects of hydroxychloroquine.
Design, Setting, and Participants
Clinical findings in patients with hydroxychloroquine retinopathy were monitored with repeated anatomical and functional examinations for 13 to 40 months after the drug was stopped in a referral practice in a university medical center. Eleven patients participated, with the severity of toxic effects categorized as early (patchy parafoveal damage shown on field or objective testing), moderate (a 50%-100% parafoveal ring of optical coherence tomography thinning but intact retinal pigment epithelium), and severe (visible bull’s-eye damage).
Main Outcomes and Measures
Visual acuity, white 10-2 visual field pattern density plots, fundus autofluorescence, spectral-density optical coherence tomography cross sections, thickness (from cube diagrams), and ellipsoid zone length.
Visual acuity and visual fields showed no consistent change. Fundus autofluorescence showed little or no change except in severe cases in which the bull’s-eye damage expanded progressively. Optical coherence tomography cross sections showed little visible change in early and moderate cases but progressive foveal thinning (approximately 7 μm/y) and loss of ellipsoid zone (in the range of 100 μm/y) in severe cases, which was confirmed by quantitative measurements. The measurements also showed some foveal thinning (approximately 4 μm/y) and deepening of parafoveal loss in moderate cases, but the breadth of the ellipsoid zone remained constant in both early and moderate cases. A few cases showed a suggestion of ellipsoid zone improvement.
Conclusions and Relevance
Patients with hydroxychloroquine retinopathy involving the retinal pigment epithelium demonstrated progressive damage on optical coherence tomography for at least 3 years after the drug was discontinued, including loss of foveal thickness and cone structure. Cases recognized before retinal pigment epithelium damage retained foveal architecture with little retinal thinning. Early recognition of hydroxychloroquine toxic effects before any fundus changes are visible, using visual fields and optical coherence tomography (along with fundus autofluorescence and multifocal electroretinography as indicated), will greatly minimize late progression and the risk of visual loss.