Eye-Related Chronic Conditions
Rheumatoid Arthritis – Related Eye Problems
What are Rheumatoid Arthritis-related Eye Problems?
Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, which means that your body’s own immune system attacks your healthy cells by mistake. It causes swelling and redness, usually in the joints and tendons but it can also affect other parts of your body, including the eyes.
When rheumatoid arthritis affects your eyes, it can make them dry and they may feel dehydrated and gritty. In rare cases, rheumatoid arthritis can also cause two serious eye conditions called scleritis and uveitis.
- Dry eyes – If rheumatoid arthritis damages the cells that produce moisture for your eyes, it is known as Sjögren’s syndrome (named after a Swedish doctor and pronounced Show-grin’s syndrome). One of the most common symptoms of this condition is dry eyes. Sjögren’s syndrome is most common among women, especially between the ages of 40 and 60. In severe cases, it can harm the surface of your eye, damaging your ability to see, so it’s important that you seek treatment.
- Scleritis – Rheumatoid arthritis can sometimes cause inflammation and pain in the white part of your eyeball (the sclera). When this happens, it is known as scleritis. Scleritis is a serious condition that can affect one or both eyes. The initial symptom is an aching pain, which may spread from your eyes to your brow or jaw; it might also disrupt your sleep. You may also find light unbearably bright and your vision may become blurred. Scleritis usually affects the front of the eye, in which case your eye will look red and swollen. However, in about one in 10 cases, scleritis affects the back of the eye, so your eye may look normal from the front.
- Uveitis – Uveitis is often associated with autoimmune disorders like rheumatoid arthritis. It is not common, but it can cause pain, redness, blurred vision, sensitivity to light and floaters (shadows that move across your field of vision).
If you have rheumatoid arthritis and experience persistent dry eyes, pain, swelling, redness, blurred vision or floaters, you should talk to an eye care professional, or your rheumatologist for advice and treatment as soon as possible.
Sjögren’s syndrome is usually treated with lubricant eye drops, but surgery is sometimes needed. Maintaining good eye hygiene is also important if you have Sjögren’s syndrome as the condition can make you more likely to develop eye infections.
Scleritis is usually treated with drugs that reduce inflammation and suppress the immune system. The main treatment for uveitis is steroid medication (corticosteroids), which can reduce swelling inside the eye.
These symptoms can also be a sign of other eye conditions. If you have any of the symptoms, please check with your eye care practitioner.