Patients with β-thalassemia (β-tha) represent a group with lifelong transfusion-dependent anemias. This study aimed to describe the conjunctival changes and tear film parameters in these patients.
A total of 52 patients (104 eyes) with β-tha major and 22 normal control subjects (44 eyes) were studied during 1999 through 2000. Tear film break-up time (BUT), Schirmer test, rose Bengal staining, and cytologic evaluation of the conjunctival epithelium were performed in all subjects. The Papanicolaou and May-Grümwald-Giemsa staining procedures were performed on all smears. Patients and control subjects were compared for tear function parameters and conjunctival changes.
The BUT, Schirmer test, and rose Bengal staining values were significantly lower (P < 0.001) in β-tha patients than in control subjects. Keratinized cells were observed in conjunctival samples in 41% of patients, with a decrease in the number of goblet cells per slide in 64% of patients. In 9% of β-tha patients, there were a slightly greater number of inflammatory cells than in control eyes.
Ocular surface disorder of these patients was characterized by goblet cell loss and conjunctival squamous metaplasia. Our findings were correlated positively with the variable age. Epithelial damage by toxic reaction and disorder of tear quality and quantity are implicated as important factors in the pathogenesis of the ocular surface disease in β-tha patients.