Isotretinoin, which goes by brand names including Roaccutane, Claravis and Amnesteem, is known to have serious side effects, such as bone growth delays in teenagers and miscarriages and birth defects when taken by pregnant women. According to Roche, the maker of Roaccutane, formerly known as Accutane, 16 million people worldwide have used that brand alone since 1982 for treating severe cases of acne in both teens and adults.
Some eye problems are already more common in people with acne, but in the new study of nearly 15,000 Israeli adolescents and young adults, 14% of those taking isotretinoin were treated for eye conditions within a year of starting the drug, compared to 7% of an acne-free comparison group. In the study whose average age was 16, nearly 2,000 people developed inflammatory eye conditions-991 who were taking isotretinoin, 446 with acne but not on the medication and 354 in the acne-free group. The most common complaint was conjunctivitis.
A likely explanation for the increased risk of eye problems is that isotretinoin can disrupt the function of the meibomian glands on the eyelids. These glands produce an oily substance that prevents the eyes from drying, and if the glands do not work properly, the eyes can become irritated or inflamed. Also, the presence of isotretinoin and its metabolites in the tear film may have a direct irritating effect on the eye’s surface.
Thus, doctors who prescribe these acne drugs should do so along with eye lubricants to prevent drying and irritation.