A standard back tattoo led to eye inflammation and hearing loss

  • Tattoos can cause reactions, but they're mostly mild and treatable
  • A standard tattoo caused a rare reaction in a Japanese man, affecting his eyes and hearing 
  • Fortunately, doctors could successfully treat him with corticosteroids

Love them or loathe them, tattoos have remained popular throughout the ages, and people get them for various reasons. Getting "inked", however, comes with a variety of risks if you don’t go to a reputable, professional tattoo artist.

Unfortunately, for a 35-year old patient from Japan, a tattoo resulted in a not-so-average reaction. He lost his hearing and developed abnormal vision.

According to the case report, published in the BMJ, the man visited the Department of Ophthalmology at Fukuoka University Hospital after he suffered four months of abnormal vision. Specialists diagnosed him with uveitis, an inflammatory condition that affects the middle layer of tissue in the eyewall, known as the uvea.

Immune response

Doctors could not link any previous trauma or infection to the  inflammation and suspected that it could be caused by inflammatory cells called granulomas, which may relate to a condition known as sarcoidosis, which is an immune response by the body.

When the doctors performed blood tests, it indeed revealed hormone levels pointing to an unnatural immune response. After receiving treatment, the unfortunate patient ended up also suffering hearing loss in both ears.

The doctors prescribed corticosteroids, which suppressed the immune reaction. Luckily, this cleared up the eye inflammation, and the patient’s hearing was restored.

Tattoo the culprit

Eventually, the doctors took a close look at the patient's back tattoo that had been done 6 months prior to his symptoms appearing. There, they found signs of granulomas in the ink lines of the tattoo.

Granulomas popping up after getting a tattoo done are common, as the skin and immune system can react to the metals in certain inks, but in hypersensitive individuals, these granulomas can show up in other parts of the body, explaining the eye inflammation and hearing loss.

In the case study, the doctors hypothesise  that the sarcoidosis was most likely caused by a severe immune response to the exposure to the chemicals in the tattoo. They also mention that sarcoidal skin reactions from a tattoo are incredibly rare, even when granulomas show up on the tattoo site.

READ | Tattoo remorse? How to erase your ink 

READ | Tattoos can make skin cancer detection tricky 

READ | This is how far tattoo ink can travel in your body

Image credit: Getty Images

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