As an inflammatory autoimmune condition, rheumatoid arthritis can affect parts of your body other than your joints. Inflammation of the eyes can leave you prone to developing scleritis or Sjogren's syndrome, so regular eye exams should form part of your healthcare plan. Here's an overview of these two conditions:
Scleritis is a serious eye condition that can cause permanent vision loss if left untreated. It causes the white part of your eye to become inflamed. This white section, known as the sclera, is made up of connective tissue that supports the shape of your eye. Scleritis can affect one or both eyes and symptoms include eye pain, light sensitivity, watery eyes and dulling of your eyesight. Untreated scleritis can lead to glaucoma, uveitis or the development of a hole in the sclera.
An optometrist can diagnose scleritis by taking details of your symptoms and examining your eyes with a slit lamp, which magnifies the individual components of your eyes and allows the optometrist to determine the degree of inflammation present. Treatment can include anti-inflammatory eye drops and steroids, which can be taken by mouth or injected into your eye.
If you take an immunosuppressant to control the symptoms of your rheumatoid arthritis, you should also consult with your rheumatologist and have your current dosage assessed. The same immunosuppressant drugs you use for your arthritis can be used to keep scleritis under control, so active scleritis can be a sign your immunosuppressant medication needs to be tweaked.
Sjogren's syndrome causes the glands that produce tears to become inflamed, which leads to dry eyes. Symptoms of Sjogren's syndrome include eye irritation and damage to the cornea as a result of abrasion. Dry eyes also leave you prone to developing eye infections as dirt and bacteria are not removed efficiently.
A routine eye test will pick up dry eyes and your optometrist can diagnose Sjogren's syndrome by taking details of your symptoms and medical history. If there's any doubt over the diagnosis, you may be referred for a blood test to establish if you have raised levels of anti-Ro and anti-La antibodies, which are an indicator of Sjogren's syndrome.
Treatment aims to resolve the dryness and any infection present. Your optometrist may suggest you use eye lubricant or artificial tears to keep your eyes moist, and topical antibiotics can be prescribed of you have signs of an eye infection such as redness, discharge or crusts around your eyes. Flaxseed oil may also help reduce dryness, but you should consult with your doctor before taking any supplements.
If you're concerned about the impact of rheumatoid arthritis on your eye health, or if you're overdue for an eye exam, schedule an appointment with your optometrist as soon as possible.