This Common Joint Condition Has An Unexpected Effect On Your Eyes

Everything in the body is interconnected. Just consider how our gut health can influence everything from our immune system to digestion to even our mood (via WebMD). Likewise, our joint health can also impact the functioning of other areas of the body, such as our eyes. Experts state that those with rheumatoid arthritis (RA) may be at an increased risk for various eye conditions (via Banner Health).

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease characterized by swelling, pain, and stiffness in the joints. RA is a common condition said to affect around 1.3 million Americans, according to 2021 research published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine. The link between RA and our eyes has to do with collagen, a protein that is essential to our joint health, the Arthritis Foundation explains. Connective tissue in the body is predominantly made up of collagen, as is the eyes' cornea and sclera. In cases of rheumatoid arthritis, collagen is impacted. "RA creates an inflammatory cascade that can spill over into the eye," optometrist Cori Jones told Banner Health. Here are the types of eye conditions a person diagnosed with RA may potentially experience.

Dry eyes, scleritis, uveitis, and retinal vasculitis

The number one vision issue most often associated with rheumatoid arthritis is dry eyes, explains Banner Health. This is because RA impairs the functioning of the tear glands, making it difficult to keep the eyes hydrated. As a result, patients often experience irritation and blurry eyesight.

Pain, itching, burning, light sensitivity, redness, or floating spots in one's vision are additional eye symptoms frequently experienced by those with RA. In some cases, these symptoms may be caused by scleritis, a condition in which inflammation affects the white portion of the eyeball (sclera). Alternatively, when the layer of the eye behind the sclera becomes inflamed, it's known as uveitis. Finally, towards the back of the eye lies the retina, which can also be affected. Retinal vasculitis is a condition in which the blood vessels within the retina become inflamed. Those with rheumatoid arthritis may be susceptible to all three of these eye conditions.

Some rheumatoid arthritis medications may cause vision issues

The optic nerve as well as the cornea can also be affected as a result of rheumatoid arthritis, explains Banner Health. While this demonstrates that there are a number of eye conditions RA patients may be prone to, vision issues may sometimes instead be due to certain RA treatment drugs. This includes immunosuppressant medications, hydroxychloroquine, and steroids. In a 2020 scientific review published in the British Medical Journal (BMJ), researchers also noted potential ocular side effects related to non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drug (NSAIDs) usage, which are commonly taken for joint pain. However, such adverse effects are considered highly uncommon.

If you're diagnosed with RA, be sure to keep up with routine eye check-ups. If you pick up on any signs of potential vision issues, be sure to speak with your eye doctor even if symptoms only come on intermittently. Early detection can help prevent any potential eye conditions from worsening. Depending on the cause, your doctor may suggest different treatment options ranging from eye drops to medication to surgery as well as at-home relief methods.