Medical News Today: How does arthritis affect the eyes?

Arthritis is often thought of as inflammation of the joints. But the condition can cause problems in other, more unexpected areas, such as the eyes.

Around 1 in 5 people over the age of 18 years are diagnosed with some form of arthritis. The disease can affect people of any age, race, or gender and have a serious impact on their quality of life.

Rheumatoid arthritis, in particular, has been shown to affect the eyes.

Those people who do have eye problems are usually affected in both eyes. The majority of people who experience arthritis-related eye problems are women. These eye problems tend to worsen as arthritis progresses.

Eye conditions linked with arthritis

Several eye conditions are associated with different forms of arthritis.

Keratitis sicca

Senior person's eyes.
Various eye conditions may be linked to different forms of arthritis, incuding dry eye syndrome, cataracts, and conjuctivitis.

Keratitis sicca, commonly known as dry eye syndrome, is when the eyes stop producing enough tears to keep them moist. It affects women more commonly than men.

Causes include:

  • rheumatoid arthritis

  • secondary Sjogren’s syndrome


  • dryness

  • a sensation of something in the eye

  • blurred vision


  • controlling arthritic inflammation with arthritis medication

  • topical ointment used at night

  • artificial tears or eye drops to keep the eyes moist

  • running a humidifier in the bedroom at night

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Scleritis is inflammation of the sclera, or the white part of the eye. It can lead to the sclera or the cornea becoming too thin, which can cause the eye to rupture.

Scleritis is often an indication that a person’s inflammation is out of control and their arthritis treatment may need to be adjusted.

Causes include:

  • rheumatoid arthritis inflammation

  • other autoimmune diseases, such as relapsing polychondritis and granulomatosis

  • infections


  • redness that does not go away despite over-the-counter eye drops

  • severe pain

  • sensitivity to light

  • reduced vision


  • oral corticosteroids

  • other oral or intravenous medications to reduce inflammation


Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, the vascular area of the eye found between the retina and the sclera.

Causes include:


  • pain

  • redness

  • blurred vision

  • sensitivity to light

  • risk of permanent vision loss, particularly in children


  • corticosteroid eye drops

  • oral corticosteroid or corticosteroid injection into the eye

  • antibiotics if an infection occurs

Children with psoriatic arthritis should be screened for uveitis frequently, as symptoms may not appear until the eyesight is permanently damaged.


Woman having eye vision test at opticians.
Any issues with vision, or changes in the eye or the skin around the eye, should be reported to a doctor or an optician.

Cataracts occur when inflammation of the eyeball causes the lens to cloud over. The lens is in a healthy eye is usually clear.

Causes include:

  • rheumatoid arthritis

  • ankylosing spondylitis

  • psoriatic arthritis

  • use of oral or topical steroid


  • cloudy or blurred vision

  • poor vision at night

  • colors appearing faded


  • surgery to remove the cloudy lens and replace it with an artificial one


Glaucoma is damage to the optic nerve that occurs because of high pressure inside the eye. If the channels that usually drain fluid from the eye become inflamed, pressure can build up.

Causes include:

  • ankylosing spondylitis

  • juvenile idiopathic arthritis

  • other types of inflammatory arthritis

  • side effect of corticosteroid therapy for arthritis


  • no symptoms in the early stages

  • pain

  • blurred vision

  • blank spots in vision

  • seeing a rainbow-colored halo around lights


  • eye drops

  • surgery to lower pressure

  • reducing or avoiding corticosteroid use

Retinal vascular occlusion

If the blood vessels leading to the retina become blocked, it can cause retinal vascular occlusion.

Causes include:


  • a blind spot in a person’s vision

  • vision loss that comes and goes suddenly

  • gradual vision loss


  • laser surgery to reduce swelling and restore vision if a vein is blocked

If an artery is blocked, some doctors will attempt to lower the pressure in the eye to help save a person’s vision. However, the damage is usually permanent as there is no proven effective treatment.

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Conjunctivitis is inflammation or infection of the lining of the eyelids and the white of the eyes. The National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Diseases believe that having arthritis is a risk factor for conjunctivitis.

Causes include:

  • reactive arthritis or inflammation caused by an infection


  • red eye or inner lid

  • increased amount of tears

  • yellow discharge that crusts around the eye

  • itchy or burning eyes


  • antibiotics

  • steroids to help with inflammation

Types of arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis in a woman's hands and fingers.
Rheumatoid arthritis is characterized by the immune system attacking healthy cells in the body.

While there are around 100 different forms of arthritis and related diseases, not all of them are linked to eye conditions. The two most common types linked with eye problems are rheumatoid arthritis and psoriatic arthritis.

Rheumatoid arthritis

Rheumatoid arthritis is known as an autoimmune disease, which is when the body is attacked by its own immune system. Rather than protecting the person from bacteria and viruses, rheumatoid arthritis makes the immune system become overactive and attack healthy tissues.

Rheumatoid arthritis attacks the lining of the joints. Over time, the inflammation will damage the joints permanently and cause severe pain.

Psoriatic arthritis

Psoriatic arthritis is an autoimmune inflammatory disease that is closely associated with the symptoms of psoriasis. It can also affect connective tissue and the skin.

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Osteoarthritis (OA) occurs when the protective cartilage between the joints breaks down, making movement more difficult and painful.

The joints rubbing together can be extremely painful, but the symptoms and severity of OA vary from person to person.


Fibromyalgia is known as a central pain syndrome, which means that the brain and the spinal cord process pain signals differently in people affected by it.

Fibromyalgia causes widespread pain, which can be constant or intermittent. It can also cause fatigue, problems sleeping and concentrating, and mood swings.


Gout is a form of inflammatory arthritis. It occurs when the body produces uric acid that forms crystals in the joints. The crystals cause pain and inflammation and often affect the big toe, although gout can occur in other joints also.

When to see a doctor

If a person with arthritis is experiencing any changes in their vision, or they are concerned that their eyes are being affected, they should see an eye doctor, as soon as possible.

Early diagnosis and treatment can help prevent further damage to the eyes and permanent vision loss.

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