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Oh my red eyes (and Rheumatoid Arthritis)

Updated on July 21, 2015

Your eyes and Rheumatoid Arthritis

Naïve. That describes me in understanding Rheumatoid Arthritis. Here I thought it just impacted your joints. Wrong! I have talked about the impact Rheumatoid Arthritis has on your teeth. Well, guess what? It also can and, for me, has affected the eyes. I am not a doctor or a health care professional but rather someone that was diagnosed with a severe and aggressive form of Rheumatoid Arthritis. I share with you my lessons learned.

I started wearing glasses about 6 years ago for reading and regular sight. I was contemplating contact lenses but was told by my optometrist that I would not be able to wear them for long because of dry eyes. She further explained that the dry eyes are caused by my Rheumatoid Arthritis. As it was explained to me, inflammation in the eye ducts prevents the eyes from staying moist; hence, the dry eye issue. For me, I have dryness to my eyes, my eyes can be painful at times but the most annoying complication is the feeling of having grit in my eyes. I have also noticed blurred vision at times. It appears to become worse in the later part of the day, especially if I have been working at my desk all day or driving.

My optometrist suggested that simply blinking throughout the day will help keep my eyes moist and relieve some of the dryness. I routinely do this when they become irritated. However, it is not enough. After meeting with my Rheumatologist and Optometrist, I was told that prescription eye drops can help relieve dryness as well as topical corticosteroids can relieve redness and itching. Alright, I also admit that I use slices of cucumbers placed over my closed eyes toward the end of the day to help cool my burning eyes. Does it help? I’m not sure if it is simply closing my eyes for ten minutes or the cucumbers, but my eyes always feel better afterwards. Blink, blink and blink throughout the day. I have an office with a door so I can shut my door and shut my eyes for a few minutes if they are really bothering me. Over-the-counter eye drops help but only give temporary relief.

If your eye irritation is caused by your Rheumatoid Arthritis and is left untreated, it can lead to permanent damage and even blindness, according to my doctor. That simple yet scary statement was enough to get my attention.

For me, knowing that the issues I was having with my eyes was related to my Rheumatoid Arthritis was frustrating but it helped me to take a serious look at the treatment. I did not diminish what I was feeling or chock it up to allergies or tired eyes but rather treated it as part of my overall RA treatment. I have incorporated my eye care treatment in my overall RA treatment plan with yearly check –ups with the Optometrist and by bringing my RA doctor into those discussions with my Optometrist. The most important lesson was to understand that my RA impacts so many areas of my body, not just my joints. Don’t assume that what you are feeling is not related to your Rheumatoid Arthritis just because it does not impact your joints. Talk, talk and talk to your healthcare professionals and coordinate the treatment of all doctors through your RA specialist.


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