Our body is a whole system of interconnected nerves, tissues, and cells. So, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that one condition can trigger another.

In this case, we’re talking about arthritis and dry eyes. While one causes inflammation in the joints, the other makes your eyes feel scratchy and sandy.

So, can rheumatoid arthritis cause dry eyes? And if yes, how?

Understanding arthritis, dry eyes, and the link between the two will allow you to better manage these common conditions. Read on to find out more.

Arthritis and Dry Eyes

Arthritis is a chronic inflammatory disease. It generally affects the joints, causing swelling and tenderness. There are over 100 different types of arthritis conditions, including osteoarthritis and rheumatoid arthritis (RA).

Dry eye, on the other hand, is a common eye condition. It occurs when your eyes do not produce enough healthy tears. The result is dry, scratchy eyes that are often inflamed and sensitive to light.

So, how does rheumatoid arthritis cause dry eyes? And what exactly is the link between the two?

Rheumatoid arthritis is an autoimmune disorder. When it occurs, your own immune system turns on other parts of your body. It attacks the skin, lungs, heart, blood vessels, nerve tissues, and notably the eyes.

Arthritis first inflames your tear glands. This causes certain abnormalities that significantly reduce tear production. As a result, people with arthritis are at a high risk of dry eyes.

Other Arthritis-Related Eye Issues

Apart from dryness, does arthritis affect the eyes in other ways? Unfortunately, yes.

Arthritis comes with other eye problems, too. These are mostly the result of inflammation. It goes without saying that controlling inflammation will help improve vision problems.

Scleritis is the most common complication of arthritis. It causes redness, pain, and light sensitivity, and won’t go away by simply using topical eye drops.

closeup of male blue eye affected by dry eye disease and slight redness

Another arthritis-related eye issue is uveitis. This is when the middle layer of your eyeball gets inflamed. Common symptoms include eye pain and blurry vision.

People with arthritis may even develop glaucoma, a study shows. This generally happens when inflammation affects the fluid-draining part of the eye.

Furthermore, dry eyes, uveitis, and scleritis can cause corneal damage. It’s best to treat ocular dryness before your cornea becomes scratched, scarred, or ulcerated.

Symptoms of Arthritis Dry Eyes

Symptoms of dry eye due to arthritis can creep in subtly. It may all start with slight dryness and blurry vision that get worse over time. So, keep a lookout for any of the following symptoms.

  • Eye inflammation
  • Dry, gritty eyes
  • Scratchy or burning sensation in eyes
  • Light sensitivity
  • Red, irritated, or itchy eyes
  • Pain and swelling in eyes
  • Excessive tearing to overcompensate for the dryness
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Eye fatigue
  • Trouble with tasks like working on a computer, driving, stitching, and knitting
  • Discomfort while wearing contact lenses
  • Stringy mucus in and around eyes

Treatment for Arthritis Dry Eyes

Inflammatory arthritis and dry eyes are interlinked. So, it’s no surprise that treating one helps soothe the other, too.

Applying a warm washcloth, eating healthy, and using a humidifier are a few effective remedies. Take a closer look at these and more.

1. Try a Warm Compress

Arthritis can inflame the tiny, oil-producing glands in your eyelid. This affects the quality as well as the quantity of your tears. As a result, your eyes feel excessively dry and scratchy most of the time.

A warm compress can help treat this condition. Apply it over your eyelids to open up the oil glands and keep the oils flowing. This will also ensure a healthy tear film that doesn’t evaporate quickly.

Not to forget, a warm compress will relieve arthritis-induced eye inflammation. Use it regularly and your RA and dry eyes symptoms can show a significant improvement over time.

Tip: Here's how to make a warm compress for dry eyes.

2. Eat Healthy Foods and Keep Hydrated

Fatty fish, leafy greens, colorful berries, nuts, and seeds. These foods are not just good for your dry eyes, they also curb the arthritis inflammatory response. In other words, they’re a solid treatment for arthritis dry eyes.

closeup of woman drinking from cup with a happy expression on her face

At the same time, aim for 8 to 10 glasses of water daily. Your tears are mostly composed of water. Science shows that dehydration can make dry eyes worse.

Proper hydration will produce healthy and nourishing tears. It will also flush out toxins from your body, fighting arthritis inflammation.

3. Take Visual Breaks

Arthritis, as it is, dries out your eyes. On top of that, visually straining tasks, like reading a book or working on a computer, further worsen the condition.

Make sure to take quick visual breaks to relax your eyes. Look away and blink several times. Doing so will help spread fresh tears over your eyes.

Also, handle your tech wisely. Focus on your posture while using a computer or laptop, position the screen at the right angle, and avoid glare.

These simple measures are a great treatment for dry eyes rheumatoid arthritis.

4. Use a Humidifier

A room humidifier can add moisture to your space. But what’s in it for people suffering from dry eyes and joint pain?

With high moisture levels at home, your dry eye symptoms will significantly improve. Your eyes will feel less itchy and irritated. And the tear film will provide sufficient lubrication.

In addition, psoriatic arthritis patients often complain of flare-ups during the colder, drier months. A humidifier will put moisture back into the air, reducing inflammation and joint pain. So, a win-win for patients with psoriatic arthritis and dry eyes.

5. Opt for Eye Supplements

If your diet is lacking in essential nutrients for the eyes, consider dietary supplements. Omega-3 fatty acids, vitamins A and D, zinc, lutein, and zeaxanthin can help improve dry eye symptoms and reduce inflammation.

Supplements are especially important for those with meibomian gland dysfunction (MGD). This condition is common in people with arthritis and comes with decreased tear production.

A powerful eye health supplement is SightC from Sightsage. SightC is loaded with antioxidants and phytonutrients from goji berries, turmeric, Cherokee rose, and other plants that have been used for centuries in Traditional Chinese Medicine.

Supported by modern science, the plants, herbs, and roots in SightC can soothe your eyes and protect them from oxidative damage.

SightC is sugar-free and suitable for people with gluten intolerance. It’s packed into vegan capsules that are easy to take at home, at work, or while you travel.

Learn more about SightC.

Important: Talk to your eye doctor before taking any dietary supplementation for rheumatoid arthritis and dry eyes.

6. Massage Your Eyelids

Massaging pressure points in your eyes can relieve fatigue and headaches and provide relaxation. It will also stimulate blocked tear glands and alleviate dryness.

closeup of woman's eyelid lighted up by the sun while the rest of her face is in mild shadow

Apply gentle pressure over your upper and lower eyelids. Also, massage both corners of your eyes in a circular motion. Eye massage before bedtime is a great way to improve dry eye symptoms the next morning.

7. Use Punctal Plugs

Punctal plugs are tiny silicon devices inserted in the eyelids. Don’t worry, you won’t even know they’re there. These plugs help block your tear ducts and keep your tears around longer.

Some punctal plugs are permanently inserted in the eyes. But most people need only the temporary ones that dissolve on their own.

Talk to your eye doctor to learn if punctal plugs may improve your osteoarthritis and dry eyes.

8. Try Medications, Lenses, and Eye Inserts

If you have dry eyes and mouth rheumatoid arthritis, you can take oral medicines. These will reduce inflammation and boost tear production.

Alternatively, opt for topical medication. This comes in the form of eye drops and ointments and can provide relief from dryness.

You can also try eye inserts. These are tiny, medicated inserts that slowly release a formula to lubricate the eyes.

Finally, you also have the option of specialized contact lenses. These create a well of fluid over your eyes. They are designed to treat severe eye dryness by trapping moisture.

9. Don’t Forget Your Sunglasses

Wind and dust in your eyes can worsen dry eyes. That’s when sunglasses enter the picture. They shield your eyes from the external elements and keep them well-lubricated.

And while you’re busy keeping the wind away, make sure to avoid hair dryers and air-cons, too. Dry, artificial air blasting in your face does nothing good for your eyes.

Good to know: Wraparound sunglasses are a perfect solution for excessive eye dryness. They provide complete protection from the wind and prevent tear evaporation.

10. Make Lifestyle Changes

The way you live can affect both your rheumatoid arthritis and dry eyes. Making some healthy lifestyle changes can improve both conditions.

Begin by exercising daily. It will benefit dry eyes and is good for arthritis, too. Exercising improves blood flow, regenerates tissues, and encourages the production of oils for healthy tears.

So, take out that old bicycle, hit the gym, or simply go on a walk.

Tip: Working at a desk? Find out how many steps you should take a day to maximise the health benefits of walking.

woman with bike and sunglasses on cobbled street downtown smiling as she holds the handlebars

Focus on a healthy diet, drink plenty of fluids, and quit smoking. Stay away from smoke and pollution.

Also, maintain eye hygiene by avoiding contact lens use, removing eye makeup before sleeping, and washing your hands before touching your eyes.

Arthritis Dry Eye in a Nutshell

Now that we've reached the end of this post, let's do a quick recap of the main points we've covered.

Many people ask: are dry eyes a symptom of arthritis? The simple answer is yes.

Arthritis causes inflammation of your tear glands. As a result, your eyes don’t make a healthy, stable tear film. This causes dry eye symptoms like grittiness and pain.

While you can apply topical eye drops to relieve dryness, it’s best to fix the root cause of dry eyes. This includes using a warm compress and humidifier to reduce inflammation, taking essential supplements, and making lifestyle changes.

Follow the tips we shared with you and living with dry eyes and arthritis will become easier.

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