Rheumatoid arthritis is often associated with joint stiffness, but it can cause inflammation in other parts of your body. When rheumatoid arthritis affects your eyes, the inflammatory reaction that occurs can leave you susceptible to developing two serious eye conditions. Here's what you need to know about these two conditions:
This condition occurs when the lacrimal glands, which are responsible for making tears, become inflamed. The inflammation prevents the correct level of moisture reaching your cornea, causing your eyes to dry out. This dryness can irritate the cornea and distort your vision, but it can also leave you susceptible to eye infections as your eyes are not able to clean themselves.
Your optometrist can diagnose Sjogren's syndrome by taking details of your medical history and performing a routine eye test. If you have an active eye infection, your optometrist will recommend a topical antibiotic and possibly a steroid cream to reduce inflammation around your eyes caused by the infection. Signs of an eye infection include crusting of your eyelids, discharge from your eyes, redness, and swelling. Chronically dry eyes can be treated with artificial tears and lubricant, which will ease discomfort and help keep your eyes clean.
As an autoimmune disease, rheumatoid arthritis can leave you prone to developing other autoimmune diseases such as scleritits. This eye condition causes the sclera, the white part of your eye, to become inflamed and can lead to permanent vision loss if it's not addressed. Symptoms of scleritis include light sensitivity, pain and discharge.
Scleritis can be diagnosed with a slit lamp, which allows your optometrist to view magnified images of each part of your eye and establish the level of inflammation around the sclera. Your optometrist can recommend steroids or eye drops to bring down the inflammation, but immunosuppressant drugs can also be used to bring the condition under control. If you already take an immunosuppressant for your rheumatoid arthritis, ask your rheumatologist to assess your current dosage as it's often possible to use the one drug for both conditions.
These two eye conditions can make everyday tasks such as reading or driving impossible, but they aren't difficult to treat. If you're experiencing any eye pain, changes to your vision or discharge from your eyes, schedule an appointment with your optometrist for a thorough eye examination. They will record details of your eye health at each appointment, so regular appointments allow them to easily spot changes before irreversible damage occurs.