Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disease that is characterized by pain and swelling in the joints. Over time, this swelling can erode the bones and lead to deformities. Rheumatoid arthritis doesn't just cause joint problems; it can also damage other tissues, like your eyes. One possible eye complication of this disease is keratitis. Here are four things you need to know about it.
What is keratitis?
Keratitis refers to an inflammation of your cornea. As you may know, your cornea is the transparent tissue in the front of your eye that shields your iris and pupil. It also focuses light as it enters your eye. The cornea is essential for sight, and it can be damaged or scarred by the inflammation of keratitis. This condition can lead to serious complications like decreased vision or complete blindness.
What does it have to do with rheumatoid arthritis?
When you have rheumatoid arthritis, your immune system creates autoantibodies. These are immune cells that target your own tissues instead of targeting real threats. The antibodies attack the collagen that cushions your joints.
However, collagen is found in lots of other tissues around your body as well, so it's not just your joints that are in danger. One of these tissues is the cornea. In fact, the cornea is almost entirely made of collagen, which is why your immune system targets it.
What are the signs of this condition?
The signs of keratitis are fairly similar to the signs of other eye conditions. Your eyes will be red, watery, and sore. The discomfort can be severe enough to make it hard for you to open your eyelids. Other possible symptoms include a sensitivity to light or the feeling that a foreign object is stuck in your eye.
Since these symptoms are fairly vague and could be indicative of a variety of eye problems, your optometrist will need to do tests to diagnose your condition. One of these tests is a slit-lamp exam. During this test, your optometrist will use a low-power microscope and a bright light to closely examine your corneas. If the cornea is inflamed, you'll be diagnosed with keratitis.
How is keratitis treated?
To protect your cornea from further damage, the inflammation needs to be controlled. This can be done with medications such as non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs or corticosteroids. If this treatment is performed early enough, before the cornea is damaged, your vision will be fine. If you don't seek treatment until your cornea is already damaged, you could have scars on your cornea, which will lead to decreased vision and may necessitate a corneal transplant.
To prevent a recurrence, it's important that your rheumatoid arthritis is well-controlled. Your family doctor or rheumatologist can evaluate your treatment regimen to make sure it's controlling your disease effectively, and make changes if necessary.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, stay alert for changes in your eyes, not just your joints. If you notice any eye problems, see an optometrist like Dr.Joslin, Dr.Morin & Associates immediately.