Rheumatoid arthritis can affect your eyes

  • Jan 24 , 2017

Joint pain and inflammation are the common symptoms that come to your mind when you are dealing with arthritis. But, there is increasing research which is showing that inflammation can cause damage in an unexpected way.

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that can occur at any age and the body attacks its own healthy tissues. One of the most common complications for people with rheumatoid arthritis is eye problems, which can lead to damage corneal and in the end affect vision if left untreated.

Some common eye conditions that might affect people with rheumatoid arthritis include:

Dry eyes: Dry eye is a common problem for patients living with rheumatoid arthritis. People with dry eyes might experience itching, a gritty feeling, and redness. Patients with dry eyes are at increased risk for infections because the tear glands are responsible for protecting the eyes. Eye dryness is also a symptom of Sjogren’s syndrome which is an inflammatory disease that often affects the tear and saliva glands. Approximately 10 to 25 per cent of rheumatoid arthritis patients will develop Sjogren’s syndrome. Treatment for dry eyes includes artificial tears or prescription eye drops.

Scleritis: Scleritis is an inflammation of the white part of the eye. Symptoms include pain, swelling, redness, blurred vision and sensitivity to light. Scleritis is a severe and painful disease which can create a hole in the eyeball if left untreated. Scleritis is treated with prescription anti-inflammatory medication, usually, prednisone eye drops.

Iritis and uveitis: The uvea is the middle part of the eye between the sclera and retina, which is in the back of the eye and the iris is the coloured part of the eye. Uveitis is an inflammation of the uvea and Iritis is a form of uveitis, which is an inflammation of the iris. Symptoms include blurred vision, eye pain, and redness. Treatment with steroid or non-steroid anti-inflammatory eye drops is usually effective. Treatment for either condition depends on the symptoms.

Medical complications

Some of the medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis, such as prednisone and plaque nil, can actually trigger eye problems. Plaquenil, on rare occasions, causes retinopathy and prednisone can cause cataracts or glaucoma. People who need to be treated with medications that have side effects that impact the eye should see an ophthalmologist who can monitor for adverse effects.

Only an ophthalmologist can diagnose and rule out possible eye problems in people with RA. So, people with RA should see an ophthalmologist yearly and minimise the duration of treatment with medications. It is good for people with rheumatoid arthritis to be aware of this.