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Lupus and Your Eyes: What You Need to Know

Lupus and Your Eyes: What You Need to Know
September 25th, 2018, Admin,

Your eye health and how lupus can affect your vision

Have you or a loved one recently been diagnosed with lupus? Are you worried about how lupus affects your eyes and your eyesight? We have compiled some useful information for you in this article.

Remember, if you are experiencing vision problems of any kind, it is important that you speak with your doctor as soon as possible.

What is lupus?

Systemic lupus erythematosus is an autoimmune disease that can cause your immune system to attack healthy cells in your body. Lupus can affect any area of the body, including the heart, lungs, skin, joints, kidneys and blood cells. 

Lupus is an unpredictable disease, with periods of remission and flare ups. These flare ups can vary in length from minor, to lifelong, chronic problems. 

Currently science has not been able to find a cure for lupus. Early diagnosis, avoiding things that may trigger flare ups and drug therapy can all help to lessen the symptoms of lupus.

What causes lupus?

Doctors have not been able to find a direct cause for lupus. Research is currently being done to determine what effect hormones, environment and genetics play in the development of this disease. Lupus is most often diagnosed in women, ages 15-44, but has also been found to affect men. 

How can lupus affect your vision?

Lupus can attack any healthy tissue within the body, even your eyes. Complications that affect the eye could be because of the lupus itself, an overlapping disease, a side effect or medication, or a combination of any of these things. 

The effects that lupus may have in and around the eyes can include:

Skin changes around your eyes

The skin and tissue around your eyes are very delicate and sensitive. 

Some people with lupus can develop a rash (discoid lupus erythematosus) around their eyes and over their eyelids. 

The rash is slightly scaly, red, raised and generally made up of disc-shaped lesions. This rash is most likely to appear on areas of the skin that are most often exposed to sunlight.

Treatment can be a topical steroid cream, or a more aggressive steroid therapy, depending on the severity.

Dry eyes from lupus 

About 20% of people with lupus also suffer from a secondary disease called sjogren s syndrome. This syndrome causes the tear glands to not produce enough tears to properly lubricate and nourish the eye. 

Also called dry eye syndrome, the symptoms can range from gritty, itchy eyes, to a burning or scratchy sensation. Blurred vision or excess watering of the eyes can also be a symptom of the syndrome. 

Treatment for moderate dry eye syndrome includes lubricating eye drops.

Dry eye syndrome can result in damage to the surface of the eye and impaired vision if left untreated. If you are experiencing any of theses symptoms, it is best to consult your doctor or ophthalmologist early on. 

Retina Vasculitis

Retinal vasculitis is a serious, sight-threatening inflammatory conditional that involves the blood vessels in the retina. 

With retinal vasculitis, the blood supply is reduced or limited to the retina. This causes the eye to form new blood vessels to in an attempt to heal itself. These vessels are generally weaker and can cause bleeding or inflammation in the eye. The new vessels can also be in areas of the eye that impair vision. In cases of severe retinal vascular disease, it is possible to lose vision permanently. 

Retinal vasculitis is often treated with systemic steroids and anticoagulant medications.


Scleritis, or scleral disease, is not common in people with Lupus, affecting approximately only 1% of those with the disease. But, it is important to note that for that for people with lupus, scleritis may be the first sign of the autoimmune disease. 

The sclera is the white, tough outer layer of the eye. Scleritis can cause the white of your eye to become discolored and look red or in some serious cases, yellow. It is caused by inflammation and can be very painful. Due to the inflammation, the sclera can become thinner and weak, making that area of the weak and susceptible to serious damage in the event of trauma. 

Symptoms other than pain and discoloration can include light sensitivity, blurred vision along with dark patches on the sclera. 

Treatment is usually a prescribed oral or topical steroid or anti-inflammatory medication. Contact your eye doctor immediately if you suspect your may have scleritis.

Risk of infection

Lupus and other related autoimmune diseases have been associated with an increased risk of infections. Many of the medications used to treat lupus suppress the immune system, leaving the body vulnerable to other infections that a healthy body could easily fight off. 

Common areas for infection include the eyelid, conjunctiva, or, inside the eye itself. Untreated, infections in any part of the eye can lead to permanent damage or vision loss.  Damage to the optic nerve resulting in central vision issues is also a serious possibility with eye infections.

Report any signs of infection to your eye doctor as early as possible to prevent serious or permanent damage to the eye.

Complications from medications

Generally, 3 types of medications are used to treat lupus: immunosuppressants, antimalarial drugs and steroids. Each type of drug therapy has its own risk factor:
  • Overuse of immunosuppressants can lead to increase risk of infections in the eye, such as conjunctivitis.
  • Large doses and prolonged use of antimalarial drugs can lead to retinal toxicity, which can severely damage the retina.
  • Steroids, be it in pill form, administered intravenously or in eye drops, can predispose a patient to glaucoma or cataracts.
If you have concerns about medications and their side effects, be sure to discuss those concerns with your doctor before any change in treatment.

Protecting your vision when you have lupus

The key to optimal eye health and lupus is to report any changes in your vision to your doctor immediately. Do not ignore changes in your vision.

Talk to your doctor about any vision changes

Being proactive is critical to your overall vision health. Making note of the changes you might be feeling, seeing or not seeing is an important tool in making sure that your vision stays healthy. 

Signs to look for and discuss with your doctor:
  • Redness or rash in the area around your eyes
  • Dry, itchy eyes
  • Redness or discoloration of the whites of your eye
  • Pain and new sensitivity to light

Annual eye screenings

Any change in your vision is worth having a conversation with your eye care professional. Even if you are not experiencing any symptoms, it is recommended that patients with lupus see their doctor regularly and have a complete and comprehensive eye exam at least once a year.

Visit an Eyestar Optical Optometrist to book an eye exam today.