SAEM Clinical Image Series: Eye Pain


A 59-year-old gentleman experiencing homelessness with a history of hepatocellular carcinoma, hepatitis C, alcohol use disorder, and tobacco dependence presented to the emergency department (ED) with severe, worsening right eye pain, blurry vision, swelling, redness, and purulent discharge after scraping his upper face on concrete during a mechanical fall two weeks prior. Of note, his partner presented to the ED at the same time with a necrotic infection of the breast as well as multiple skin lesions reportedly due to insect bites.

Vitals: T 102.4°F; HR 108; BP 121/94

Head: Lice nits visible in his hair

Eye: Unable to open right eye without assistance; eyelids crusted and necrotic with underlying orbicularis oculi muscle visible; EOM full but painful in all fields of gaze; visual acuity 20/60 in each eye; pupils 2 mm, equal and minimally reactive.

White blood cell (WBC) count: 27,600/μl

Comprehensive metabolic panel (CMP): Na 121; K 2.8; Cl 83; AST 113; ALT 45

Wound culture: Positive for MRSA, Streptococcus pyogenes, Enterobacter cloacae, and Staphyloccocus epidermis

This patient’s presentation is consistent with periorbital necrotizing fasciitis complicated by severe sepsis.

This patient had type 1 necrotizing fasciitis given the polymicrobial source of infection with both aerobic and anaerobic organisms growing from his wound culture. Type 2 necrotizing fasciitis is attributable to streptococcal and/or staphylococcal infection alone. Group A strep is the most common organism responsible for necrotizing fasciitis, found in about 50% of cases.

Independent risk factors for necrotizing fasciitis include advanced age, diabetes mellitus, heart disease, liver cirrhosis, alcohol use disorder, and trauma. Furthermore, persons who experience homelessness are at risk of skin lesions due to insect bites, burns, and physical trauma which predispose them to secondary bacterial infections because of inadequate hygiene resources.

A systematic review of periorbital necrotizing fasciitis showed that 35% of cases were triggered by trauma, while 14% were caused by other infections such as acute dacryocystitis, sinus infections, and infections of the parotid glands.  Thus, it is likely that the patient’s contact with his partner who had a necrotic soft tissue infection secondary to insect bites, as well as his recent trauma to the eye, predisposed his development of this condition.

Initiation of broad-spectrum intravenous (IV) antibiotics with vancomycin, piperacillin/tazobactam, and clindamycin, as well as IV fluids.

In this case, the patient received the above antibiotics, underwent operative debridement, frequent wound care including dilute hypochlorous acid, local vancomycin administered via intra-orbital catheter, as well as lid reconstruction with glabellar flap. He was ultimately discharged on a two-week course of oral moxifloxacin and linezolid, healing well at his one-month follow-up appointment.


Take-Home Points

  • Skin problems are a common reason that persons experiencing homelessness seek medical care, given their risk factors for both primary insults and subsequent superinfection.
  • Common sources of infection for periorbital necrotizing fasciitis include trauma, surgery, and other infections of the upper face.
  • The standard of care for periorbital necrotizing fasciitis consists of IV and local antibiotics, and operative debridement.

  • Amrith S, Hosdurga Pai V, Ling WW. Periorbital necrotizing fasciitis — a review. Acta Ophthalmol. 2013 Nov;91(7):596-603. doi: 10.1111/j.1755-3768.2012.02420.x. Epub 2012 Apr 20. PMID: 22520175.