Graft vs. Host Disease

About Graft vs. Host Disease

Graft vs. Host Disease (GVHD) is a condition resulting from bone marrow donation or blood stem cell transplant.  Specifically, it occurs when the immune cells of the donor reject their new environment and begin to attack the host tissue. Ocular issues occur in about 40 to 60 percent of people with chronic GVHD.

In these instances, donor cells attack and cause inflammation to the structures of the eye. As a result, tear glands can become blocked, causing severe dry eyes. Corneal inflammation can lead to thinning, infection, perforation, and scarring. Damage to visual structures can compromise the ability to see clearly, and if left untreated, can cause permanent visual problems.


Some GVHD symptoms include:

  • Pain
  • Burning
  • Inflammation and Irritation
  • Night Vision Reduction
  • Blurry Vision
  • Excessive Tearing
  • Dry Eye
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to Light 

Treatments We Offer

In most cases, systemic treatment alone will not resolve this eye issue. Aggressive lubrication, eye drops, ointments, punctal occlusion (reduce tear reabsorption), and nutritional fish oil to promote tear production, are often recommended forms of treatment, as well as are immuno-suppressants, steroids, antibiotics, and scleral lenses, which maintains a tear reservoir on the eye to keep the eye lubricated. Scleral lenses also protect the eye from further irritation, allowing it to heal. They also correct refractive errors from corneal surface deficits, improving visual acuity.

Why Choose Columbia?

Rare eye conditions require specialized and experienced ophthalmologists. At Columbia, our ophthalmologists see patients with rare eye disorders and diseases from all over the world and have the resources of our multidisciplinary team to make sure you receive the best eye care possible.