How Does Rheumatoid Arthritis Affect the Eyes?

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a chronic autoimmune disease that primarily affects the joints. It causes inflammation, pain, stiffness, and swelling in the joints, which can result in limited mobility and difficulty performing daily tasks. RA can also affect other parts of the body, including the lungs, heart, and blood vessels.

The exact cause of RA is unknown, but it is thought to be a combination of genetic and environmental factors. It is more common in women than men, and it usually develops between the ages of 30 and 60.

There is no cure for RA, but treatment can help manage symptoms and slow the progression of the disease. Medications such as nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs), disease-modifying antirheumatic drugs (DMARDs), and biologic agents can help reduce inflammation and prevent joint damage. Physical therapy, occupational therapy, and regular exercise can also help improve mobility and function.

Early diagnosis and treatment are important for managing RA and preventing joint damage. If you think you may have RA, it is important to see a doctor for an evaluation and appropriate treatment.

Eye symptoms of rheumatoid arthritis Dry eyes
Dry eyes are a common eye symptom of rheumatoid arthritis. In fact, up to 30% of people with rheumatoid arthritis may experience dry eye syndrome, which occurs when the eyes don’t produce enough tears or the tears evaporate too quickly.

Other eye symptoms that can occur in people with rheumatoid arthritis include:

  • Scleritis: inflammation of the white outer coating of the eye, which can cause redness, pain, and sensitivity to light.
  • Episcleritis: inflammation of the layer between the white outer coating of the eye and the clear layer on top of the sclera, which can cause redness and discomfort.
  • Keratitis: inflammation of the cornea, which can cause blurry vision, pain, and sensitivity to light.
  • Uveitis: inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye, which can cause eye redness, pain, light sensitivity, and blurred vision.

Other symptoms of this condition include redness, blurred vision, and a feeling of debris in the eye.


Redness in the eyes along with RA is most likely the result of scleritis, or inflammation in the white part of the eye.

Redness from scleritis won’t go away with the use of eye drops. Scleritis also can cause pain in the eyes, light sensitivity, and reduced vision.


Uveitis is another possible complication of RA, but it’s mostly seen in the juvenile form of the disease.

Uveitis occurs when the uvea, the layer between the retina and the white of the eye, becomes inflamed. Symptoms include redness, pain, light sensitivity, and blurred vision.

The majority of cases of uveitis in children are caused by RA (systemic juvenile inflammatory arthritis). Uveitis is treatable, but can cause blindness if ignored.


Uveitis and other eye inflammation can also cause floaters, which are dark spots that move across your field of vision.

Corneal damage

It’s essential that you get treatment if you have RA and eye symptoms. Untreated dry eyes, scleritis, uveitis, or Sjogren’s can cause the cornea to become scratched, scarred, or ulcerated. Corneal damage can cause permanent loss of vision.


Sjogren’s is another type of autoimmune disorder that can develop alongside RA.

Sjogren’s affects the glands in the body that produce moisture, and it can cause dry and itchy eyes as well as a gritty feeling, as if sand is trapped in your eyes. Excessive tearing can also occur as a reaction to the dryness.

Sjogren’s can cause other symptoms, including:

  • dry mouth and increased cavities (caries)
  • difficulty swallowing and speaking
  • hoarseness
  • mouth sores
  • dry and cracked skin
  • fatigue
  • fever
  • swollen joints and glands
  • chronic cough
  • gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
Treatment for RA-related eye concerns

For RA, early detection is important for your treatment. You’ll be less likely to develop eye disorders from RA when the conditions are being treated and inflammation reduced.

You can treat your eye complications with eyes drops, topical lubricants, and warm compresses. These can help relieve dryness, redness, and itching. Eye drops without preservatives are best.

For severe inflammations that don’t respond to eye drops, your doctor may recommend a topical steroid or immunosuppressive medications. These are usually applied twice a day to treat the underlying inflammation.

Possible RA complications

While pain, swelling, and stiffness in the joints are the primary symptoms of RA, the inflammatory response of the misfiring immune system can cause a variety of other symptoms.

If you have RA, you may also have:

  • skin problems
  • a greater risk for infections
  • anemia
  • lung disease
  • heart conditions
  • neuropathy
  • an increased risk for osteoporosis
Do my eye problems mean I have RA?

If you have dry or red eyes, it’s possible you have an autoimmune disorder like RA with Sjogren’s. But many other conditions can also cause dry or red eyes.

It’s more likely you have RA if your eye problems accompany other telltale symptoms, such as:

  • painful joints
  • flu-like symptoms
  • fatigue
  • general weakness
  • unintended weight loss

Talk to a doctor about these symptoms, especially if your eye doesn’t get better in a few days.


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