As rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease, it can trigger an inflammatory reaction in other parts of the body aside from the joints. If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you're at an increased risk of developing the following two eye problems:
Damage to the protein cells in the lens of your eye can cause them to cluster together and create an opaque coating that impedes your vision by preventing light reaching the retina. A cataract will continue to get worse without treatment until you experience complete loss of vision in the affected eye. Subcapsular cataracts are the most common type found in patients with rheumatoid arthritis. They occur when common anti-inflammatory medications used to treat rheumatoid arthritis damage the cells of the lens. The clustering of protein occurs at the back of your lens when you have this type of cataract, and sufferers experience sensitivity to light and blurred vision. The only treatment currently available for a cataract is surgical removal of the damaged lens. The procedure is carried out as a day case and involves the use of a laser to break down the damaged lens before an artificial lens is inserted into the eye.
Glaucoma occurs when inflammation in the eye causes a build-up of pressure at the back of the eye, and this damages the optic nerve, which forms a key part of the pathway used to transport images to your brain for processing. This damage cannot be repaired, and glaucoma can cause permanent loss of sight, so treatment needs to be undertaken immediately with the aim of preventing further damage. There are no early symptoms of glaucoma, so those with rheumatoid arthritis should have regular eye tests to help ensure the condition is diagnosed early. As the condition develops, headache, nausea and blurred vision are common signs. Sufferers may also notice red patches developing on the whites of the eyes. The aim of treatment is to provide relief from the pressure in your eye, and eye drops can be used to reduce inflammation. Laser therapy can be an effective way of reducing pressure by encouraging fluid in your eyes, which builds up as a by-product of inflammation, to drain.
Patients with rheumatoid arthritis should protect their eye health by scheduling regular eye tests into their care plan. If you're experiencing any of the symptoms listed above, or if you're overdue an eye test, schedule an urgent appointment with your optometrist so you can determine if cataract surgery or glaucoma treatment is necessary.