Can Arthritis Affect the Eyes?

Dr. Russel Lazarus, August 22, 2021

Worldwide, over 350 million people suffer from arthritis—impacting the lives of up to 25% of all adults.

In the U.S alone, almost 1 in 4 adults are diagnosed with this inflammatory disease.

What is arthritis?

Arthritis is a condition that causes inflammation of the joints and is known for its effect on physical activity and quality of life.

This inflammatory disease targets the body’s connective tissue which is comprised of collagen, the main protein in the body found in the muscles, bones, tendons, and skin.

Collagen is also the main component of the sclera and cornea of the eye. As a result, many people with arthritis also suffer from eye conditions that can affect their clear vision and sometimes even threaten vision loss.

There are a range of successful options to treat the eye conditions caused by arthritis.

Types of arthritis

There are many different types of arthritis, with osteoarthritis (OA) and rheumatoid arthritis (RA) being the most common.

Osteoarthritis causes joint pain from long-term overuse and is generally diagnosed among the older population.

Rheumatoid arthritis (RA) is an autoimmune disease that affects people of all ages. Autoimmune diseases incite a bodily response in which the body attacks itself, including its healthy tissues.

Other types of arthritis include:

  • Sjogren’s syndrome
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Psoriatic arthritis
  • Ankylosing spondylitis

Arthritis can be the leading cause of a range of  eye conditions that can impact vision and even result in permanent vision loss.

Dry eye syndrome

Dry eye syndrome occurs when the quality or quantity of the tears is diminished.

The tear film is responsible for ocular lubrication and protecting the eye from foreign particles, making the tear layer necessary for clear and comfortable vision.

If left untreated, severe dry eye can lead to corneal scarring and infection, as well as other complications.

Rheumatoid arthritis and Sjogren’s syndrome are the two primary types of arthritis that can lead to dry eye syndrome.

Dry eye from RA affects women up to 9 times more than men.

Symptoms of dry eye syndrome:

  • Dry eyes
  • Blurred vision
  • Red eyes
  • Eyes feel scratchy or irritated
  • Foreign body sensation in the eyes


Rheumatoid arthritis can lead to thinning of the sclera, the white part of the eye, or the cornea.

Symptoms of scleritis:

  • Severe eye pain
  • Ocular redness that doesn’t subside with eye drops
  • Light sensitivity
  • Blurred vision


This condition occurs when the uvea, the vascular layer of the eye located between the retina and sclera, becomes inflamed.  If left untreated, uveitis can lead to vision loss.

Uveitis is most commonly caused by juvenile arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, reactive arthritis, ankylosing spondylitis, and Behçet’s disease.

Uveitis symptoms:

  • Ocular Pain
  • Redness
  • Blurred vision
  • Light sensitivity

SEE RELATED: Treatments for Eye Conditions Caused by Arthritis

If you have arthritis, contact an eye doctor near you to discuss the options for the treatment of any visual issues.

Find an eye doctor near you

Retinal Vascular Occlusion (RVO)

This condition, also known as an ‘eye stroke’, occurs when the arteries or blood vessels of the retina become blocked or backed up as a result of inflammation.

The vision loss associated with RVO is dependent on whether the artery is fully blocked or only  backed up.

RVOs can also be present in those with scleroderma, lupus, sarcoidosis, Behçet’s disease, polyarteritis nodosa and primary CNS angiitis.

RVO symptoms:

  • Sudden vision loss
  • Occasional vision loss
  • Gradual vision loss


Glaucoma causes optic nerve damage and permanent vision loss.

This eye condition commonly develops as a result of increased eye pressure. High eye pressure occurs when the fluid within the eye cannot drain properly, sometimes as a result of inflammation of the valve responsible for fluid drainage out of the eye.

Glaucoma can also develop when corticosteroids are used to treat arthritis.

The most common types of arthritis that lead to glaucoma are ankylosing spondylitis, psoriatic arthritis, along with other forms of inflammatory arthritis.

Glaucoma symptoms:

  • Pain
  • Blurred vision
  • Blind spots
  • Halos around bright lights

Note: Symptoms are generally not noticed in the early stages of glaucoma.


A cataract is the clouding of the eyes’ naturally transparent lens.

The most common types of arthritis that leads to the development of a cataract include RA, ankylosing spondylitis and psoriatic arthritis.

Cataracts can also develop as a side effect of steroid medication.

Cataract symptoms:

  • Blurred vision
  • Poor night vision
  • Colors appear less vibrant

LEARN MORE: Guide to Eye Health 

If you have arthritis, schedule an appointment with an eye doctor near you to protect your eyes from damage— even if you haven’t noticed any changes to your vision.

Arthritis can be the leading cause of a range of eye conditions that can impact vision and even result in permanent vision loss.