Why People with Rheumatoid Arthritis May Experience Eye Problems
It isn’t entirely uncommon for people with rheumatoid arthritis to also experience different eye conditions. But how are they connected? Read on to learn more.
RA can cause problems throughout the body, not just in the joints
Of course, rheumatoid arthritis is commonly associated with joint pain and swelling. While these are the prominent symptoms of the condition, that does not mean others do not exist. RA can impact many areas of the body, all in different ways. Eye problems are often caused by rheumatoid arthritis, so it is important to know what to be on the lookout for.
Because rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, it can wreak havoc all over the body, causing damage that reaches far beyond just the joints. Such diseases attack healthy tissue in the body, and eye tissue is not usually spared. Often, both eyes will be impacted and as the arthritis intensifies, so do these symptoms.
Keratitis Sicca, or dry eye syndrome, can often occur as a result of medication taken for rheumatoid arthritis. Dry eye syndrome is when the natural film around the eyes that keeps them moist dries out. As a result, the eyes will feel irritated, sometimes as if something is in them. Therefore, blurry vision will occur. To combat dry eye syndrome, the Arthritis Foundation says that you should make use of eye drops, and maybe even a humidifier to keep the air around you moist as well. If the problem is serious enough, you may have to change your medication; however, you should never do so without first consulting your doctor. In very severe situations, there is the option of punctal plugs. This is a minor procedure where a doctor will insert a small plug into the tear duct. This stops the eye from draining, and maintain moisture.
Dry eye can also sometimes be connected to Sjogren's syndrome, which is an autoimmune disorder that is commonly associated with RA.
Ana-Maria Orbai, MD, is an instructor of medicine in the division of rheumatology at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore and explains, "RA can be associated with extra-articular [meaning outside of the joint] manifestations, and dry eyes are one of the most common problems. A person with dry eyes might experience itching, a sand-like sensation in the eyes, and redness."
Scleritis is when the sclera becomes infected, which is the white part of the eye. Rheumatoid arthritis can thin out the protective wall of the eye, and when that occurs, the eyeball can split open (unpleasant, we know).
Symptoms of scleritis include, but are not limited to: redness, intense pain, and light sensitivity. In the early stages, corticosteroid eye drops can be used to control the condition from progressing further, but when symptoms occur, scleritis often indicates the inflammation has already become intense.
The best way to fight against the potential of scleritis is to ensure you are controlling your rheumatoid arthritis inflammation every day. Let's face it, no one wants to deal with this one - so, protect yourself against it. Orbai notes, "time is of the essence to prevent eye damage and vision loss."
Read on to learn more about different eye conditions associated with rheumatoid arthritis, why they occur, and how they can be managed.