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How Autoimmune Disease Affects The Eyes

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Autoimmune Disease can affect the body in different ways depending on which disease you have. I recently had the opportunity to interview Dr. Bradley Fouraker, M.D. who is a board-certified ophthalmologist.  Dr. Fouraker is affiliated with Tampa General Hospital and Brandon Hospital. He sees many patients with autoimmune related eye conditions, and patients are often referred to him because of these conditions. Dr. Fouraker stated that, “Inflammation is the main cause of issues related to how autoimmune diseases affect the eyes.”  Here are some conditions below that come about from inflammation wreaking havoc on the eyes as pointed out by Dr. Fouraker.


The most common eye condition that is caused by an autoimmune disease is chronic dry eye, also referred to as keratitis sicca, or keratoconjunctivitis sicca. Chronic dry eye that is in conjunction with an autoimmune disorder is persistent in nature. Treatment for chronic dry eye is artificial tears, but in some cases (mine) artificial tears are not enough and more treatment is required. Restasis which is an immunosuppressant agent used to treat chronic dry eye caused by inflammation according to their website can be prescribed as the next step. In cases when Restasis and artificial tears can’t combat the dry eye; tear duct plugs also called punctal plugs can be inserted directly into the tear duct to help the eye retain moisture and to prevent further complications in the affected eye.

Sjogren’s syndrome is an autoimmune disease where the immune system attacks glands that secrete tears (lacrimal glands) and glands that secrete saliva (salivary glands). This condition is characterized by a dry mouth and dry eyes. Other parts of the body can be affected as well like the joints, thyroid, kidneys, lungs, liver, and skin according to the Mayo Clinic. Sjogren’s can be managed with the same treatment methods as chronic dry eye. Systemic drugs like Plaquenil or even Methotrexate may be used to suppress the immune system to try and control the disease.

Another type of eye condition caused by inflammation of the eye is iritis, also referred to as anterior uveitis, which is inflammation of the iris (the colored part of the eye surrounding the pupil). Iritis can only be diagnosed by an ophthalmologist. Symptoms include redness of the eye, pain in the eye, sensitivity to light (photophobia), and blurry vision. The main treatment is steroid eye drops, and eye drops that dilate the pupil as to ease the pain and the risk of complications in the affected eye.

Scleritis is inflammation of the sclera (the white part of the eye). This is a painful condition with symptoms that include redness of the sclera, severe photophobia, and a decrease in vision. Treatment can include steroid drops, non-steroidal medications, antibiotic drops, and according to the American Academy of Ophthalmology in severe cases immunosuppressant drugs can be given.

The conditions listed above are the most common forms of the immune system attacking the eyes. In rare and more severe cases inflammation can affect the retina, this is called retinitis (inflammation of the retina located at the back of the eye). Also, autoimmune disease could lead to cataracts that form on the lens of the eye, causing cloudy or hazy vision, as well as glaucoma.

Glaucoma is a condition that causes the pressures in the eye to elevate, this response can then damage the optic nerve resulting in permanent vision loss. Vision loss can be prevented with early treatment designed to lower the eye pressure. Constant monitoring is needed by an ophthalmologist that specializes in glaucoma.

I would like to inform you that this article is not intended as medical advice and should not be used in place of seeking medical help from a licensed medical professional. It is just here to bring awareness to the many ways autoimmune disease can affect the body. Thank you for reading this article, I hope it was able to help you in some way, or at least enlighten others on the effects of autoimmune disease. Have a blessed day and keep on fighting warriors.

 

Signed a fellow warrior,

Amy Archibald

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