Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that affects the joints, but it may affect other areas of the body as well. (Learn more) Outside of joint issues, one of the major symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis is dry eyes.(Learn More)

Dry eyes associated with rheumatoid arthritis may be treated with some over-the-counter medications, (Learn More) prescription medications, (Learn More) and other medical treatments. There are also some home remedies or alternative treatments that can help. (Learn More)

If you have dry eyes as a result of rheumatoid arthritis, have your physician check for  another autoimmune disease, Sjogren’s syndrome. (Learn More)

Rheumatoid arthritis may also be associated with inflammation, irritation, and pain in the eyes. (Learn More) Inflammation may be linked with numerous symptoms. (Learn More) Talk to a doctor about potential treatments for inflammation and pain. (Learn More)

closeup of old man and his right eye

Can Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect Your Eyes?

Rheumatoid arthritis occurs as a result of an autoimmune disease. It is best known for affecting the joints.

It is not unusual for chronic inflammatory autoimmune diseases to affect other parts of the body as well. In technical terms, the effects of rheumatoid arthritis can also be extra-articular, meaning they can affect portions of the body outside the joints and bones.

According to the Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network, the disease can affect the eyes, resulting in dry eyes, inflammation of the eyes, and painful or irritated eyes.

Dry Eyes

One of the most common extra-articular effects of rheumatoid arthritis is dryness in the eyes.

Dry eyes can be irritating, itching, and even painful. If chronic, the condition can make your eyes more prone to infection. Chronic dry eyes is a condition where you cannot produce enough tears.

With dry eyes, you may experience inflammatory damage to the cornea of the eye, the clear outer protective layer of the eye.

If you are experiencing dry eyes and you have rheumatoid arthritis, discuss the situation with your physician. Your physician may prescribe medication or simply take a wait-and-see approach, but they should be monitoring the situation.

woman using eyedrops in her eye

Over-the-Counter Drugs for Dry Eyes

A popular over-the-counter (OTC) medication is the use of eye drops called artificial tears. These will simply moisten the eyes and may need to be applied several times a day.

Do not use eye drops that are designed to reduce redness because they may irritate your eyes.

There are some ointments that are sold OTC that may also be useful. Discuss these with your physician

Prescription Medications for Dry Eyes

You might get a prescription medication from your doctor to address dry eyes. Most of these focus on reducing inflammation, or they may be antibiotics. Restasis (cyclosporine) can be used to treat inflammation.

If regular OTC medications are not working, your physician might consider using eye inserts (small clear tubes of medication that go in your eye like contacts) to address the situation.

Procedures to Address Dry Eyes

There are some medical procedures that might be considered for dry eyes, including:

  • The use of special contacts designed to protect the surface of your eye and prevent moisture from escaping.
  • A procedure known as the LipiFlow Thermal Pulsation to clear blocked oil glands in the eye.
  • A procedure using punctal plugs made of silicone to block your tear ducts. This can help to retain moisture in the eyes.

Alternative Treatments

If you have chronic dry eyes as result of rheumatoid arthritis, you may also want to try some at-home remedies and alternative therapies in addition to medical treatments.

  • Take omega-3 supplements. These may reduce inflammation in your body and lessen dry eyes. Alternatively, you could eat more salmon, sardines, flaxseed, and other foods that have omega-3 fatty acids in them.
  • Use castor oil eye drops. These may reduce tear evaporation, but discuss this with your doctor before you try it.
  • Apply a warm, wet washcloth over your eyes for five minutes several times a day, or massage your eyelids with a mild soap. Again, discuss this with your doctor first.
  • Wear sunglasses with side eye shields.
  • Limit exposure to secondhand smoke. If you smoke, stop.
  • Stay hydrated.
  • Discuss intense pulsed light therapy with your physician. There is at least one research study that suggests it may be useful in dealing with chronic dry eyes.

sunglasses on table

Sjogren’s Syndrome

Discuss the possibility that you may have Sjogren’s syndrome with your doctor. This is an autoimmune disease that may occur in conjunction with rheumatoid arthritis in some people.

The disease attacks the glands that make tears and saliva. It causes chronic dry mouth and dry eyes, and it affects other parts of the body.

Inflammation and Irritation of the Eyes Due to Rheumatoid Arthritis

Inflammation, redness, and irritation of the eyes may occur in people who have rheumatoid arthritis. Certain types of eye inflammation are associated with rheumatoid arthritis.

  • Iritis is the inflammation of the iris, or colored part of your eye. Irritation can produce blurred vision, floaters in your sight, or other visual problems.
  • Scleritis is inflammation of the sclera, the white outer layer of the eye. You will most likely experience irritation, pain, sensitivity to light, and even visual problems if you develop this.
  • Uveitis occurs at the very center of the eye, or the uvea. The symptoms are very similar to the symptoms associated with iritis.

Other Symptoms

In addition to the above symptoms, you may also experience the following:

  • Pain
  • Burning
  • Itching
  • Redness
  • Watery eyes
  • A gritty feeling in your eyes
  • Your eyelids sticking together

If you have any type of discharge from your eyes, it may signal a bacterial infection. Immediately see your physician.

An opthamologist is listening to the patient in an exam room.

Treatment for Eye Issues Related to Rheumatoid Arthritis

if you have any of the above symptoms, your physician will decide on the appropriate treatment for inflammation, given your situation. Treatment may include antibiotics, antiviral drops, corticosteroids, or other types of care.

Using a warm compress across your eyes can relieve some of the irritation associated with inflammation. Keep your hands clean, especially if you touch your eyes at all. If you use contacts, remove them until you discuss your problems with your physician.

Rheumatoid arthritis medications may also result in side effects that could affect your eyes. Discuss this possibility with your physician.

References

RA Eye Problems: What Eye Problems Result from Rheumatoid Arthritis? (October 2018). Rheumatoid Arthritis Support Network.

A Single LipiFlow® Thermal Pulsation System Treatment Improves Meibomian Gland Function and Reduces Dry Eye Symptoms for 9 Months. (April 2012). Current Eye Research.

Punctal Plugs for Dry Eyes. (January 2017). All About Vision.

A Randomized Controlled Trial of Omega-3 Fatty Acids in Dry Eye Syndrome. (July 2013). International Journal of Ophthalmology.

Intense Pulsed Light Treatment for Dry Eye Disease Due to Meibomian Gland Dysfunction; A 3-Year Retrospective Study. (January 2015). Photo Medicine and Laser Surgery.

Sjogren’s Syndrome. (June 2019). MedlinePlus.

Iritis and Uveitis. (January 2019). Medscape.