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One of the things they don’t tell you about rheumatoid arthritis is how it can affect your eyes. Any effects RA can have on your eyes can be due to the condition itself and it can also be due to the medication that you’re on. Now, if you’re one of the lucky ones that have yet to notice a difference with your focals then great! However, if you are noticing that your peepers are starting to feel NQR, then rest assured that you are not alone and it’s not just your mind playing tricks on you!
Can rheumatoid arthritis affect your eyes?
As a long time 4-eyes, it was a bit harder for me to pick up any irregularities with my vision. Certainly, being a book worm didn’t help, as well as my infrequent trips down the YouTube rabbit hole. It can take a while before you can actually discern whether or not your eyes are playing up. It probably wasn’t until my year mark of having RA that my rheumatologist asked me if I had seen an ophthalmologist yet.
A what the?
Yep, an oph-thal-mol-ogist. An ophthalmologist is like a one up on optometrists who can also perform surgeries on your eyes.
Why do you need an ophthalmologist?
Ophthalmologist are able to perform a Plaquenil test or Hydroxychloroquine test. For those that are on Plaquenil, it is essential that you get this test once a year as this medication can affect your eyes. This is particularly so if you have been on a high dosage for a number of years. Hydroxychloroquine has been known to cause retinal toxicity. The retina is the light sensitive layer of cells in the back of your eyes.
Does the test hurt?
The test performed by the ophthalmologist is not painful but it is uncomfortable. The opthalmologist will not only do the Plaquenil test but also give your eyes an overall check. It is best to find a reputable opthalmologist that you will be able to see yearly so they can keep track of the health of your eyes and are better able to spot any irregularities or changes over time.
Before your test, the ophthalmologist will put drops in your eyes that will cause you some blurred vision. During the test, your eyes will be subjected to bright lights for an uncomfortably long period of time. From my personal experience, it is best to have someone drive you home from the test. I felt blinded for a good hour after my test. I had driven myself to the test and struggled to drive home.
How does rheumatoid arthritis affect eye health?
From my own personal experience, rheumatoid arthritis has caused me dry eyes and light sensitivity. Other than that, I haven’t experienced any significant eye problems or eye pain. I haven’t experienced any vision loss. I do get blurred vision from time to time but as far as the eye doctors are concerned, this is not related to my RA or medication. However, I do have regular eye checks at the optometrist just to make sure. Just because the blurred vision is not attributed to my RA now doesn’t mean it can’t be in the future.
For people on other anti-inflammation drugs or NSAIDs (Non-Steroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug), regular eye test are still important. Some inflammatory arthritis medications are linked to retinal vascular occlusion which affects your optic nerves, lens and the blood vessels in your eyes.
What other conditions should I look out for?
If you live with rheumatoid disease, you’ll know that it affects more than just your joints, As RA is a result of an overactive immune system, this can also cause inflammation in your eyes. Uveitis and Scleritis are both conditions that are caused by inflammation in the eyes. If you have symptoms such as eye pain, eye redness. sensitivity to light, headaches or double vision, it is best to contact and discuss this with your eye doctor. Glaucoma and cataracts can also develop due to RA. Glaucoma, in particular, has no obvious symptoms so regular eye checkups should be part of your treatment routine. It is important to keep in mind that any untreated eye symptoms can lead to permanent vision loss so it is best to be vigilant.
Rheumatoid arthritis dry eyes
The most common complain about eyes for those living with rheumatoid arthritis is dry eyes. Luckily, treatment for my dry eyes is easy attainable over the counter. I was prescribed eye drops by my optometrist and with regular and consistent use, the dry eyes is well managed. A heat pack is also fantastic as it helps to sooth your eyes when they start to ache or feel overworked. For severe cases of dry eyes, an ophthalmologist may prescribe something stronger.
Rheumatoid arthritis and your eyes
As a mother of teenage children, I often berate them for spending too much time online. I think they have heard me say a million times: ‘You need to take care of your eyes! You only get one set!’ That is what prompted me to write about the ways in which rheumatoid arthritis can affect your eyes. If I had to rank my 5 senses in order of importance, I would definitely have sight at the very top. I already live without smell (since childhood), I can’t lose another! With all that’s going on with our bodies due to RA, it can be disheartening to think that you now also have to keep tabs on your eyes. I guess it’s better to know rather than not know. The last thing you want is permanent eye damage right? So… make sure you keep an eye on your eyes!
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