An autoimmune disease is a disorder that causes the immune system to mistake healthy cells for dangerous pathogens and attack them.
Many autoimmune diseases impact the health and function of the eyes. It’s important to be aware of these affects if you or someone you love has an autoimmune disease, so let’s take a look at some of the more common ones.
Multiple sclerosis is so closely linked to vision health that eye doctors are sometimes the first to spot the disorder. In many cases, optic neuritis (a gradual or sudden loss of vision due to the inflammation of the optic nerve) is one of the first symptoms to appear.
We tend to think of psoriasis as a skin condition where skin cells build up to form scaly, dry, itchy patches. However, it can also cause inflammation of the conjunctiva, the clear membrane covering the inside of the eyelids and the whites of the eyes, causing redness and discomfort.
Disorders that cause high or low thyroid function lead to an increased risk of glaucoma, a serious eye condition in which increased pressure in the eye damages the optic nerve, causing vision loss. High thyroid function can cause tissues to build up around the eyes, increasing the pressure. At the other end of the spectrum, low thyroid function can make it harder for the eyes to circulate fluids, another way that fluid pressure can increase.
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease that can damage the skin, joints, organs, and even the eyes. Symptoms range from mild to life-threatening. Lupus affects the eyes by causing inflammation. Symptoms include blurred vision, headaches, dry eye, soreness, and light sensitivity.
Type 1 Diabetes
All forms of diabetes have dangerous implications for vision health, but type 1, even though it is far less common than type 2, is one of the leading causes of blindness in the US. Poor blood sugar control is very hard on blood vessels over time, including the blood vessels in the back of the eye. When the weakened vessels break, they compromise the retina’s blood supply and leak blood into the eye. This is called diabetic retinopathy, but diabetes also increases the risk of developing cataracts and glaucoma.
Your Optometrist Is Your Best Resource
Other autoimmune conditions that impact eye health include Sjorgen’s syndrome, ulcerative colitis, Crohn’s disease, uveitis, and Behcet disease. If you or someone you love is living with an autoimmune condition, make sure we know about it so that we can work with you to keep your eyes healthy and your vision strong.