Domino Effect: 3 Ways Your Eyes Are Impacted By Autoimmune Diseases

5 January 2016
 Categories: , Blog

The systemic inflammation associated with autoimmune diseases can cause damage to any organ or organ system in the body. One overlooked organ is the eyes, which can be especially vulnerable to damage. Diligence regarding your vision screenings can help you minimize your risks and catch problems early.

Side Effects From Medications

Medications commonly used in the management of autoimmune diseases can have significant impacts on your eyes. Corticosteroids are frequently used to manage disease flares by suppressing the immune response. Some people may not be able to stop using corticosteroids if they develop adrenal insufficiency or have not responded to other treatments.

The long-term risks associated with corticosteroid use includes an increased risk of developing cataracts.  This is often due to the comorbid issue with weight gain while taking steroids and its effects on blood glucose. Another frequently used medication is hydroxychloroquine, which can have the cumulative effect of damaging the retina.

Cardiovascular Disease

Even when systemic inflammation is not directly affecting your cardiovascular system, there is an increased risk of heart disease among people with autoimmune diseases. Increased blood pressure and other blood vessel diseases can have damaging effects on your eyes. Higher intraocular pressure is more common in people with cardiovascular disease, which can lead to glaucoma. The damage to your eyes caused by glaucoma is irreversible and often progresses, even with treatment. Hardening of the blood vessels is also more common in people with autoimmune diseases, which can impede or occlude blood flow to the eyes.

Direct Inflammation

Eye inflammation often co-occurs with autoimmune diseases, and any part of the eye can be affected. Inflammation affecting the tear ducts in the eyes can cause chronic dry eye. This form of dry eye is more than a nuisance problem alleviated by retail eye drops. Since tears help lubricate and protect the eye, the eye becomes irritated and inflamed without adequate lubrication. This can lead to corneal abrasions, and the eye lid may even stick to the surface of the eye, causing additional damage.

The nerves responsible for sending information between the eyes and brain can be just as vulnerable to inflammation. Optic neuritis occurs when the immune system attacks the optic nerves. Although the condition more often occurs if you have multiple sclerosis, any autoimmune disease can increase the chance of occurrence.

Routine vision exams and avoiding controllable risk factors for eye conditions will give you the best chance of preserving your vision, even with an autoimmune disease. Talk with your eye doctor to establish a unique screening schedule, based on your risks.