The Link Between Dry Eyes and Lupus
Are your eyes dry and itchy? If you have lupus, it could be the reason why your eyes are dry and uncomfortable. Whether dry eye symptoms only happen during flare-ups or occur consistently, treating your symptoms will keep your eyes moist and prevent damage to your eyes.
What Is Lupus?
Systemic lupus erythematosus (lupus) occurs when the immune system mistakenly attacks your tissues, triggering inflammation that can affect any part of the body, including the joints, skin, organs, brain, blood cells, and eyes. Lupus symptoms typically start between 15 and 45 years of age and affect nine times as many women as men, according to the National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease.
Do You Have Dry Eyes?
Dry eye can happen for several reasons. Your eyes may not make enough tears, or your tears might dry out too soon. In some cases, the eye does produce tears, but there's a problem with the quality of the tears.
Symptoms of dry eye include:
- Gritty Feeling in the Eyes
- Feeling That Something Is Stuck in Your Eyes
- Blurry Vision
- Sensitivity to Light
- Thin Strings of Mucus in Your Eyes
- Watery Eyes
In addition to causing pain and discomfort, dry eye can damage your cornea in severe cases. Light rays enter your eyes through the clear, rounded tissue covering your iris and pupil. If the cornea is damaged or scarred, blurred vision or temporary or permanent loss of vision could occur.
Why Do I Have Dry Eye?
If you have lupus and also have the primary form of Sjogren's syndrome, you could be at risk for developing dry eye. Sjogren's syndrome can inflame the tear glands and affect their ability to produce an adequate amount of tears.
Secondary Sjogren's syndrome could also be to blame for your dry eyes. The syndrome affects about 20% of people who have lupus, according to the Lupus Foundation. Secondary Sjogren's syndrome can make your eyes, mouth, and throat very dry.
Sjogren's syndrome isn't the only cause of dry eye in people who have lupus. According to a study published in Frontiers in Medicine, people who have lupus, but don't have secondary Sjogren's syndrome, may still be more likely to develop dry eye disease. The researchers think that dryness could be related to a problem with Meibomian glands in the eyelids. The glands produce oil that helps prevents tears from evaporating too quickly.
What Can Be Done About Dry Eye?
Keeping your eyes moist and lubricated is essential if you have dry eye. Your ophthalmologist can offer several helpful treatment options and recommendations, including:
- Eye Drops. Over-the-counter artificial tears can be used throughout the day to keep your eyes moist. Your eye doctor may also recommend prescription anti-inflammatory drops that increase tear production, or prescribe other types of prescription eye drops.
- Punctal Plugs. These tiny plugs block some of your tear ducts, preventing tears from draining too quickly.
- Scleral Contact Lenses. Have you given up wearing contact lenses because your eyes are just too dry? Unlike traditional contact lenses that sit on your corneas, scleral contact lenses are larger and rest on the whites of your eyes. Their larger size keeps eyes moister. The lenses are made of materials specially designed to trap moisture.
- Autologous Blood Serum Drops. Made from your own blood, these drops soothe inflammation and help your eyes heal.
These tips will help you keep your symptoms under control:
- Avoid Blowing Air. Your eyes may feel even drier than normal if you sit near a heating or cooling vent or fan, spend time outdoors on a windy day, or even use a blow dryer. Goggles or wrap-around sunglasses can prevent tear evaporation.
- Increase Moisture Indoors. Adding humidifiers to your home is a simple way to increase moisture. Be sure to put a humidifier in your bedroom to prevent waking up with uncomfortably dry eyes.
- Use Warm Compresses. Applying warm compresses to the eyes helps unclogs blocked oil glands and keep your eyes moister.
Need help managing your dry eye symptoms? Contact our office to make an appointment.
National Institute of Arthritis and Musculoskeletal and Skin Disease: Overview of Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (Lupus), 8/17/2022
Mayo Clinic: Arthritis and Sjogren's Syndrome
Lupus Foundation: How Lupus Affects the Eyes
Frontiers in Medicine: Analysis of Ocular Surface Characteristics and Incidence of Dry Eye Disease in Systemic Lupus Erythematosus Patients Without Secondary Sjögren's Syndrome, 3/7/2022
All About Vision: Five Ways Lupus Can Affect Eyes and Vision Health, 10/6/2021
International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health: Systemic Lupus Erythematosus and Risk of Dry Eye Disease and Corneal Surface Damage: A Population-Based Cohort Study, 2/21/2023