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Rheumatoid Arthritis And Your Eyes: What You Should Know

Man massaging painful wrist
Since rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that attacks your body's joints, you feel the effects of this condition daily. Unfortunately, not just joints are affected by RA; the eyes are commonly afflicted as well.
Up to 40% of rheumatoid arthritis sufferers experience eye problems linked to the autoimmune disease. Here are things you should know about your eye health while managing RA; your eye doctor will help you keep your eyes healthy with regular exams and treatment as needed.
Your Eyes Become Dry
The most common eye problem associated with rheumatoid arthritis is dryness. Dry eyes can be caused by an RA-related condition called Sjogren's syndrome or just be a side effect of RA.
Dryness makes eyes appear red and feel itchy and irritated. Without treatment, dry eyes can lead to infection or corneal damage. Treating dry eyes with over-the-counter drops can temporarily relieve symptoms.
Your eye doctor may prescribe prescription eye drops to help your eyes produce more natural tears to lessen the symptoms of dry eye. If your dry eye symptoms get worse or don't respond well to other treatments, your eye doctor can put plugs in your tear ducts to prevent moisture drainage and to keep your eyes wet.
Your Eyes Become Painful
Rheumatoid arthritis can affect both the whites of your eyes and the corneas themselves, leading to painful, swollen, and red eyes. When your eyes are inflamed due to RA, you'll experience the following symptoms:
  • Pain in the upper areas of your face
  • Excessive watering of the eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Decreased or blurry vision
Corneal damage in particular can lead to vision loss. To manage your eye health, see your eye doctor for regular checkups, even if your vision appears to be unaffected. Your eye doctor may prescribe treatments for your eye pain depending on how severe your symptoms are and how long you have been experiencing pain. Corticosteroid eye drops are often prescribed to battle RA-related eye conditions like scleritis.
Your Eyes Become Affected By RA Medications
Some common prescription medications that relieve the pain and inflammation of rheumatoid arthritis negatively affect the eyes. Certain medications can cause cataracts, glaucoma, or retinopathy.
Retinopathy in particular is a concern: this disease is an inflammation of the retina, which can lead to vision loss or worsen other eye conditions. Your eye doctor or rheumatologist will recommend yearly exams if you take certain medications that can put your eyes in danger.
If you take RA medications that can affect your eyes, bring them up every time you visit your eye doctor. In some cases, your general doctor can reduce or change your RA prescriptions to lessen eye risks, especially if your eye doctor is concerned about your eye health. Before changing to a new RA medication, ask about potential side effects that can harm your vision.
See your eye doctor right away if you experience sudden vision loss or experience deep-set eye pain. If you are treating eye pain with over-the-counter drops several times a day, let your eye doctor know. Write down the eye symptoms you have and when they started and relay this information to your eye doctor during your appointment.
Eye problems and complications are common with people who have rheumatoid arthritis. The best way to manage your eye health is to stay on top of your symptoms and to see your eye doctor regularly.
The right eye doctor will be able to treat your RA-related eye problems and help you protect your vision. Our team of specialists at the office of Robert S Haymond, MD will create a custom treatment plan that works with your eye health needs. Call us to schedule an appointment today.