Lupus and Your Eyes: What You Need to Know
September 25th, 2018,
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.
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
- 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.
Protecting your vision when you have lupus
Talk to your doctor about any vision changes
- 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
Disclaimer: This information has been compiled from various sources and is intended for information purposes only. If you are experiencing any vision problems, it is always best to consult with your doctor as soon as possible.