Autoimmune diseases impact over 23.5 million Americans and occur when your immune system mistakenly attacks your body. In normal circumstances, our immune systems fight off harmful bacteria, germs, and other unwanted viruses. But sometimes, the immune system will begin attacking the body even if it’s completely healthy.
These autoimmune diseases can affect the entire body, including your eyes, making it critical to get the proper eye care to prevent smaller symptoms from turning worse. Let’s talk about what autoimmune diseases can do to your vision and how you can prevent it.
Common Eye Symptoms and What To Do
There are more than 80 kinds of autoimmune diseases, with a small handful being able to target your eyesight. And while these symptoms can be signs of other serious issues, including a detached retina, concussion, or a stroke, to name a few, there is a high chance that it can relate to an autoimmune disease. It’s a good idea to visit an eye doctor to be safe, as they can diagnose the warning signs.
Here’s what each eye symptom means and how you can treat them:
Dry eyes are caused when your eyes cannot produce enough tears to keep them moist. While dry eyes can be a sign of other problems, including hormone changes, inflamed eyelid glands, and allergic eye disease, eye dryness is also a widespread problem stemming from autoimmune diseases. These diseases cause the lacrimal gland, which produces our liquid tears, to become inflamed. And if dry eyes worsen, it can affect your vision by causing damage to your cornea.
You can manage dry eye symptoms by using lubricating gels, over-the-counter artificial tears, and ointments that will provide the moisture your eyes need. Your eye doctor can also diagnose your symptoms and provide additional treatments that you might need.
Autoimmune diseases that can lead to dry eyes include:
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE)
Thyroid Eye Disease
Thyroid Eye Disease, or TED, causes the eye muscles to swell when cells attack the parts around the eye. People with TED will have a harder time closing their eyelids because of swollen eye muscles causing their eyeballs to bulge. TED leads to blurred and double vision. The most common treatments include over-the-counter lubricants and steroid medicines by mouth.
Scleritis leads to inflammation in the white part of your eye and is recognized by the white coloring in the eye experiencing redness. People with Scleritis often feel a deep aching sensation in the back of their eyes. If ignored for too long, this can lead to permanent vision damage as the sclera thins to the point where it perforates. Steroids and oral non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications can manage the inflammation.
Autoimmune diseases that can lead to Scleritis include:
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Sjogren’s syndrome
- Inflammatory bowel disease
Uveitis is caused by the uvea, the middle layer of the eye, becoming inflamed. Here are the three types of uveitis:
- Anterior uveitis: Occurs in the front of the eye and causes redness, blurred vision, and painful light sensitivity. Anterior uveitis can be treated with steroid eye drops.
- Intermediate uveitis: Occurs in the center of the eye. Although painless, it causes blurry vision and small shapes that float across your vision, called floaters. Intermediate uveitis can be treated with steroid eye drops.
- Posterior uveitis: Occurs in the back of the eye. Typically, it isn’t painful but will lead to blurry vision. Posterior uveitis can be treated with steroid medication or steroid injections.
Optic neuritis is strongly linked to multiple sclerosis, or MS, and is caused by an inflamed optic nerve. Left untreated, it can lead to pain with eye movements, blurry vision, and loss of peripheral vision. Treatments can include prescription steroid medication that is either ingested or injected by an IV.
Can These Eye Symptoms Be Cured?
While there are no cures for autoimmune diseases, the symptoms can be managed with the right treatments. If you begin feeling any of these symptoms, it’s important that you get the eye care that you need. A loss of vision can be a real threat from autoimmune diseases, but you can take steps to prevent any vision loss by visiting your eye doctor and taking the treatments suggested. But it’s important to remember that you should seek help sooner rather than later. As symptoms worsen, your eyes can be seriously impacted.
Autoimmune diseases may sound scary, especially when we think about our eyes being impacted, but there are treatments you can take to help prevent the worst side effects from happening. However, just because we can take steps to manage these symptoms, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t also take them seriously. Getting the eye care you need is the first step in preventing the worst case scenarios from happening.