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Keeping an Eye on Arthritis: Links Between Arthritis and Eye Health – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

Did you know that having arthritis can affect your eyes, too?

Sure, arthritis inflammation attacks your joints, and most people also associate arthritis pain with the bones, muscle, and tissue, as well.

However, inflammation can also attack the eyes — a little-known fact about arthritis.

Let’s explore some ways in which certain eye problems can be linked with certain forms of arthritis.


Uveitis – 

About 6% of people with uveitis are children, and the most common cause of this is uveitis associated with juvenile idiopathic arthritis. According to Medscape, “Chronic iridocyclitis occurs in 10-20% of all patients with JIA. Chronic uveitis characteristically is asymptomatic in children with JIA, leading to insidious but progressive morbidity and possible blindness. The involved eyes often are white and quiet appearing, yet 30-40% of patients with JIA-associated uveitis experience severe loss of vision as a consequence of their condition.”


Iritis –

Patients with JIA, RA, Ankylosing Spondylitis and similar conditions can develop inflammation of the colored part of the eye – the iris. This condition is known as iritis, but is also known as anterior uveitis and is similar in nature to uveitis mentioned above. According to MedicineNet, “Recurrent attacks of iritis can affect either eye and is characterized by eye pain and redness with increased pain when looking at bright lights. In addition to the iris, the ciliary body and choroid of the eye can be inflamed and this is referred to as uveitis.”


Astigmatism –

Usually, astigmatism is hereditary or, at the very least, present from birth. However, a number of environmental or lifestyle factors can also contribute to it. According to London Optical in New York state, one of these factors is chronic pressure on the eyelids that can be caused from swelling/inflammation in the face. Another risk factor is poor posture, which can come along with various forms of arthritis.


Retinopathy and Maculopathy –

Certain arthritis medications (chloroquine) can cause retinopathy, which, untreated, can lead to permanent bull’s eye maculopathy and vision loss. Retinopathy is a generic term for damage to the retina that is non-inflammatory in nature. Thus, the arthritis disease and inflammation itself is not causing the lesions or eye damage in this case — the drugs to treat arthritis are. In many cases, the retinopathy is not caught in time, and progresses to the irreversible maculopathy. According to the Medical Dictionary online, Bull’s eye maculopathy is “An ocular condition in which degeneration of the retinal pigment epithelium in the macular area causes alternating ring-like light and dark zones of pigmentation, as in a target. It may result from drug toxicity or hereditary conditions. The main symptoms are a loss of visual acuity, reduced colour vision and aversion to bright sunlight.” Additionally, one 2007 study states that “duration of rheumatoid arthritis disease could be a possible factor linked to worse prognosis of chloroquine-induced maculopathy.”


Glaucoma – 

Inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis can affect the eye, and this inflammation in the eye can affect the drainage system, eventually leading to glaucoma. Depending on the type of glaucoma, symptoms may include gradual vision loss, eye pain or blurred vision, and, if not treated properly, can lead to blindness.


Dry Eyes – 

The rheumatic autoimmune condition Sjogren’s Syndrome can lead to dry eyes. In this case, prescription-strength artificial tears and/or steroid drops may be used. This condition causes the drying of tear ducts, salivary glands, etc. and, like many forms of arthritis, causes inflammation throughout the body.  Some other people with different forms of arthritis may experience dry eyes from medications, too.


Episcleritis and Scleritis – 

Episcleritis is inflammation of the membrane covering the white part of the eye, while scleritis is inflammation of that white part. Both conditions are associated with rheumatoid arthritis and cause eye pain and tenderness. Scleritis patients can have the white part of their eyes take on a deep violet hue, and episcleritis is usually associated with red eyes.


Cataracts –

According to the Mayo Clinic,  inflammation within the eye and long-term use of corticosteroid medications often prescribed to treat rheumatoid arthritis can cause cataracts. Symptoms vary but could include cloudy, blurred or dim vision.

Of course, there are other eye conditions and other causes for eye pain, but with inflammatory arthritis, these are the most commonly associated problems. Many of these conditions are treated with steroid eye drops or artificial tears. Some may involve oral steroids or other medications. In all cases, you should see your eye doctor if experiencing eye problems. Many of these conditions can be reversed or saved from further progression if caught and treated in time. Always tell your doctor if you notice vision changes or eye pain.


Do you have experience with eye problems AND a form of arthritis? We’d like to hear your story, so please, leave a comment!

And, as we head into 2012, “keep an eye” on our blog for many new informative, inspirational, and interesting topics!


Stay Well,

Ashley Boynes-Shuck

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One thought on “Keeping an Eye on Arthritis: Links Between Arthritis and Eye Health – by Ashley Boynes-Shuck

  1. Been diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis. Also having problems with gums and may need bone implants and been to opticians and been told I have astigmatism. Never had any problems before so wondering if it is all linked to the rheumatoid arthritis.

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