September is Arthritis Awareness Month. Arthritis is a chronic disease that currently affects more than six million Canadians, or over 20% of the population over the age of 15. Nearly 24,000 children have arthritis, as do almost 50% of seniors over the age of 65. Arthritis is an inflammatory condition that can attack the joints in your fingers, toes, hands, arms, legs, the ligaments of your spinal column from neck to low back, hips and shoulders. But were you aware that it can also affect your eyes?
Rheumatoid Arthritis and Your Eyes
You may or may not be aware that there are two distinct forms of arthritis, Osteoarthritis (OA) which causes joint pain and inflammation and is generally associated with aging, and Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA) which is an autoimmune disease that can affect people at any age and causes your body to attack its own healthy tissues, including your eyes. Eye conditions and diseases that can be triggered or made more severe by RA include Keratitis Sicca (Dry Eye Syndrome), Cataracts, Conjunctivitis (Pink Eye), Glaucoma, and Scleritis (an inflammation of the sclera, the connective tissue forming the outer wall of the eye).
Other Forms of Arthritis that can Affect Your Eyes
In addition to RA, there are several other forms of inflammatory arthritis which can affect your vision. These are, Psoriatic Arthritis, affecting those with Psoriasis, Reactive Arthritis, usually brought on by an infection, Ankylosing Spondylitis, arthritis of the spine, and Sjogren’s syndrome, which affects the mucus membrane and causes dry eyes and dry mouth. Naturally, Sjogren’s syndrome is linked to Dry Eye Syndrome. However, both psoriatic arthritis and ankylosing spondylitis can be linked to cataracts, and all forms of inflammatory arthritis can be linked to glaucoma.
Arthritis and Vision Loss
Arthritis at its extreme can lead to vision loss. Uveitis, a disease that causes inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye, can be directly linked to several forms of inflammatory arthritis, including ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, juvenile arthritis, reactive arthritis and Behcet’s disease, an inflammation of the blood vessels. That is only one of several eye conditions affected by arthritis that can cause blindness. Glaucoma, cataracts, conjunctivitis and scleritis can all lead to reduced or lost vision if left unchecked. Diabetes is often connected to arthritis and both can lead to vision problems.
What Can You Do to Prevent Arthritis Related Vision Problems?
Although there is no cure for arthritis, your best chance to reduce the risk is to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle. But if, regardless of what you do, you end up developing rheumatoid arthritis or another form of inflammatory arthritis, it is important to be aware that the condition can affect your vision as well. Make an appointment with your optometrist and find out if you should be referred to an ophthalmologist for regular care. Prevention is always the best treatment, so don’t take chances with your eyes.