Autoimmune Diseases

What are they?

The autoimmune diseases (also called rheumatoid diseases) are chronic, systemic illnesses that affect the whole body. They result from an attack by the patient’s immune system upon some parts of his or her own body. These diseases cause a lot of inflammation and destruction of cells in the tissues they attack. This destruction has very serious health consequences. Depending on which disease the patient has, bones, nerves, glands, and other important organs can be destroyed. Some of the more-prevalent autoimmune diseases—rheumatoid arthritis, Sjögren’s Syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus, and multiple sclerosis—are associated with serious eye symptoms. Most of the autoimmune diseases are gender-associated and are usually much more common in women. For example, of the million or so Sjögren’s sufferers in the United States, 90% are women. 

What are some of the symptoms?

We will not mention any non-eye symptoms here. Sjögren’s syndrome is the autoimmune disease that causes the most eye-related disease. Patients suffer from very severe dry eye disease because the immune system destroys the glands that produce the tear film that lubricates the surface of the eye.

All of the autoimmune diseases listed above (multiple sclerosis (MS), lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjögren’s) can be associated with optic nerve inflammation (optic neuritis), vasculitis in the eye, uveitis, and retinopathy. In fact, the first symptom of MS is often temporary blurring or loss of vision, usually in one eye. These symptoms are due to the inflammation caused by these diseases.

How can autoimmune diseases be prevented?

To date, medical science knows of no way to prevent the autoimmune diseases, or their eye manifestations, from occurring. You must be under the care of a specialist, if you have any of the autoimmune diseases, so that flare-ups, in the eye and elsewhere, can be controlled as much as possible.

Women’s Eye Health