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Rheumatoid Arthritis; 4 Ways It Can Affect the Eyes


When arthritis is mentioned most people think of aching inflamed joints, and while this is true, many people don’t realise arthritis can also affect the eyes. Osteoarthritis is one of the most common forms of the disease, generally affecting older people as it is caused by wear and tear of our joints overtime, and this would not affect the eyes. Rheumatoid arthritis on the other hand is an autoimmune disease, which causes the body to attack health cells including the eyes and can affect people of all ages. Below are 4 ways in which rheumatoid arthritis can affect the eyes.


1. Cataracts


Cataracts is a common eye issue when we age, but with people who have rheumatoid arthritis cataracts can develop at any age. The reason for this is due to inflammation of the eye, this in turn can cause the natural crystalline lens to go from being clear to becoming cloudy. Cataracts are normally very easy to correct with cataract surgery. This is done by removing the natural cloudy lens and replacing it with a lens implant, which will not deteriorate over time. Where medically necessary cataract surgery can be done at any age.


2. Glaucoma


Glaucoma is an eye condition caused by an increase in the eye’s internal pressure, which if left untreated can cause damage to the optic nerve leading to vision loss and even total blindness. Rheumatoid arthritis can increase the pressure within the eye leading to glaucoma. Also, corticosteroid therapy used for arthritis can also cause glaucoma. People with the start of glaucoma may not notice any symptoms, so it is very important to have regular eye checks with an eye clinic, so they can check for glaucoma, and even more so if you have rheumatoid arthritis. If caught early, glaucoma can be treated with topical eye drops, but in some circumstances, surgery may be required.


3. Dry Eye Disease


Dry eye disease, also medically known as keratitis sicca, is a condition often found in people with rheumatoid arthritis, as it can reduce tear production which is needed to keep the eyes moist. Controlling the underlying inflammation with medications taken for the arthritis can give some relief of dry eye symptoms, which can include; red eyes, grittiness, excessive tearing and a burning sensation. Artificial tears, and sometimes immunosuppressant eye drops, will normally be needed. There are also a variety of at-home and in-clinic treatments that may be recommended to help with controlling dry eye symptoms.


4. Scleritis


Scleritis affects the sclera, which is the white part of the eye. Scleritis is inflammation of the sclera which can cause it to become thin. Symptoms of scleritis can include pain, vision changes and persistent redness. Scleritis can be a sign that the inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis is out of control, so it is extremely important to make sure good control of the rheumatoid arthritis is kept.


Author: Samer Hamada is a distinguished consultant ophthalmologist and cornea surgeon performing eye surgeries at his practice, Eye Clinic London. With nearly two decades’ experience, Mr. Hamada is recognised as a leading expert in the field of cataract, refractive lens exchange (RLE) and corneal surgeries.


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