Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is a complex disorder that can affect many different parts of your body. In some cases, it can also have direct and indirect effects on your eyes.
If you have rheumatoid arthritis, you may have an increased risk of developing cataracts. Cataracts form when the clear tissues in your eyes are damaged, leaving behind scar tissue that is cloudy and opaque.
Without treatment, cataracts can severely affect your eyesight, and may even cause blindness. Fortunately, cataracts are very treatable. Specialist cataract doctors can offer reliable and highly effective treatments to remove cataracts and preserve your vision.
How Are Rheumatoid Arthritis And Cataracts Linked?
Rheumatoid arthritis is caused by your body's immune system mistakenly attacking healthy tissues. In most cases, RA primarily affects your joints and muscles, but in some cases, the immune system also attacks tissues in your eyes.
Eye damage caused by rheumatoid arthritis can cause inflammation in the tissues in the centre of your eye, including the iris. This inflammation is known as uveitis. Chronic uveitis is closely linked to a specific type of cataracts, known as uveitic cataracts.
Eye inflammation caused by rheumatoid arthritis is relatively rare, and most people who live with RA do not suffer from serious uveitis. However, you may still be more vulnerable to cataracts if your RA doesn't affect your eyes.
Many people take steroid drugs, such as prednisone, to manage the pain, inflammation and stiffness caused by RA. These medications are highly effective, but they can cause some well-known side effects, usually when taken in high doses for long periods.
One of these side effects is — you guessed it — cataracts. Long-term steroid usage is a significant risk factor for developing subcapsular cataracts, which affect the backs of the lenses in your eyes.
How Can Cataracts Be Treated In People With Rheumatoid Arthritis?
If you live with rheumatoid arthritis, regular health checkups are essential to your long-term well-being, and you should attend these checkups whenever possible. Doctors, ophthalmologists and other care providers will monitor your eye health to check for signs of inflammation and cataract formation.
If you suffer from uveitis or take high doses of steroid medications, your doctors will pay extra attention to your eye health. Eye checkups are especially important if you suffer from uveitis. Uveitic cataracts can form more quickly than other types of cataracts and are easier to treat and remove if they are caught early.
If cataracts are detected during a checkup, you will be referred to specialist cataract doctors and surgeons for treatment. If your cataracts are very mild, you may be able to restore your vision with stronger glasses or contact lens prescription. However, If your cataracts are having any significant effect on your vision, they will need to be surgically removed.
Cataract doctors have had literally hundreds of years to refine their techniques, and modern cataract surgery is very safe and effective.
During the procedure, the cloudy tissues in your eye lenses are removed through a tiny incision made in the front of your eye. The tissues are then replaced with an intraocular lens (IOL). You can think of an IOL as a permanent contact lens inserted into your eye, which will restore your vision and remove any cloudiness.
Once the surgery is complete, you will be monitored for a few days to check for complications. This is particularly important for people with RA, as surgical procedures can cause temporary RA 'flares'. Once you are fully recovered, your vision should begin to noticeably improve within a few days. Many patients report improved vision as soon as the surgery is complete.
For more information on cataract surgery, contact a professional near you.