Did you know that your immune system offers greater protection to your eyes than to other organs?

Even so, certain autoimmune diseases, like lupus and Sjogren’s syndrome, can bypass this immune protection. The result can be eye-related issues, including red, sore, and dry eyes.

In this post, we will review the link between lupus and dry eye syndrome. We will also talk about the common symptoms of lupus dry eyes, risk factors, and at-home treatment methods.

First, though, let’s understand what lupus is exactly.

What Is Lupus?

Lupus is an autoimmune disease in which your immune system fights itself, attacking healthy tissues and organs by mistake. Living with lupus comes with joint pain, skin rashes, and in severe cases, organ damage.

The different types of lupus are:

  • Systemic Lupus Erythematosus (SLE): This type of lupus affects all parts of your body, including the skin, joints, heart, lungs, and kidneys. It’s also the most frequent form of the condition, comprising 70% of all cases.
  • Cutaneous Lupus Erythematosus: This condition affects only the skin. It causes red, scaly, and thick lesions, typically on the face. In some cases, this leads to scarring and skin discoloration.
  • Drug-Induced Lupus: This is a short-term type of lupus caused by certain medications. You will experience symptoms similar to those in SLE but less severe.
  • Neonatal Lupus: This is a rare type of lupus that affects infants. It causes skin rashes, liver issues, and low blood counts.

Can Lupus Cause Dry Eyes?

One-third of lupus patients experience eye-related problems, according to the National Library of Medicine. If you live with lupus, you may have eye inflammation and pain, double vision, light sensitivity, and dry eyes.

Lupus affects the glands that secrete tears and oils that lubricate and protect the surface of the eye. When your tear and oil-secreting glands become inflamed, your tear production decrease. The tear film itself becomes less stable.

 closeup of green human eye with eyelashes

What’s more, about 20% of lupus patients also have secondary Sjogren’s syndrome, according to the Lupus Foundation of America. This condition is often accompanied by dry eyes and mouth. Your tear glands don’t produce healthy, nourishing tears to lubricate the eyes.

Symptoms of Lupus Dry Eyes

Dry eye symptoms seen in lupus cannot be distinguished from regular dry eye symptoms. But along with eye dryness, you may also have skin problems around your eyelids, like lesions and scales.

Here are the symptoms of lupus dry eyes.

  • Dry and gritty eyes
  • Redness, itchiness, and irritation
  • Eye inflammation and tenderness
  • Excessive tearing to counter the excessive dryness
  • Stinging or burning sensations
  • Sensitivity to light and wind
  • Blurry or double vision
  • Scratchy feeling in the eye, like there is sand in it
  • Discomfort wearing contact lenses

Other Lupus-Related Eye Problems

Dry eye is not the only lupus-related eye problem. Lupus patients are at risk of other eye problems that can cause inflammation of the eyeball, retinal damage, and vision changes.

  • Uveitis: Uveitis is the inflammation of the middle layer of your eyes, and may occur in patients with SLE. It can make your eyes red, sore, and blurry.
  • Discoid Lupus Erythematosus: Lupus patients also often develop discoid lupus and dry eyes. This is a skin condition that leaves scars and rashes around the eyelids.
  • Retinal Vasculitis: This condition limits the blood supply to the retina. According to the Journal of Rheumatology, retinal vasculitis is a potentially sight-threatening manifestation of lupus.
  • Scleritis: Though uncommon, lupus may also cause scleritis. This condition causes inflammation of the outer layer of your eyes. As a result, your eyes feel red and sore.
  • Optic Neuritis: Also called optic neuropathy, this condition occurs in about 1% of people with lupus. In optic neuritis, inflammation and swelling damage your optic nerve. This results in poor eye movement and pupil reflexes, droopy eyelids, double vision, and even vision loss.

Risk Factors for Lupus Dry Eyes

Both lupus and dry eyes can affect anyone. But some people are at a higher risk of developing them. So, be on the lookout for one or more of these risk factors.

  • Hormones: Women are much more likely to have both lupus and dry eye syndrome. This may be partly due to female hormones like estrogen. We've written a post explaining why women are more likely to develop dry eyes.
  • Family history: Lupus has a genetic factor. A 2014 study shows that dry eye disease can also be inherited if it runs in your family.
  • Environment factors: Your environment can also increase your risk of lupus erythematosus and dry eyes. Such as the amount of sunlight and wind you’re exposed to, meds you take, stress levels, and even smoking habits.

woman with glasses covered in shadow seen in profile looking at sunlit window

Lupus Dry Eyes Treatment

Getting treatment for dry eyes due to lupus is very important. It will help address the underlying cause of dryness and alleviate painful symptoms. On the other hand, untreated dry eye disease can scratch and damage the surface of your eyes.

1. Apply a Warm Compress to Relieve Inflammation

Lupus causes inflammation of the glands that produce oils and tears. This decreases the production of a stable tear film. As a result, your eyes feel dry and gritty all day long.

An effective way to get rid of this condition is by applying a warm compress. The warmth will help reduce lupus-induced inflammation. It will also unclog your oil glands and keep your eyes well-lubricated.

2. Stay Away from Digital Devices

Digital devices like laptops and smartphones can be draining. And we mean that in terms of your eyes.

Screens disrupt your blink rate and cause your eyes to dry out. This is especially worrisome if you’re struggling with lupus and dry eyes.

It’s better to stay away from digital devices, or at least limit the time you spend using them. In addition, remember to blink consciously. This will help spread a layer of fresh tears over your eyes, keeping dryness at bay.

Tips: Discover 11 ways to reduce your screen time.

3. Improve Moisture Levels with a Humidifier

Living with dry eyes can make your mornings and nights miserable. All that scratchiness and inflammation just won’t go away. But you don’t have to endure lupus and dry eyes and mouth.

A good strategy is to use a humidifier. It will help increase moisture levels in the room you spend a significant amount of time.

Keep the air humidity at about 50%. This will bring instant relief from the painful, irritating symptoms of dry eyes.

Tip: Make sure to clean out the humidifier regularly to prevent mold and fungus.

4. Massage Your Eyelids to Alleviate Dryness

Another at-home remedy if you have dry eyes is an eyelid massage. It will help with lupus inflammation and improve tear production by stimulating the tear and oil glands.

Gently massage the corners of your eyelid. Apply pressure on the points that make you feel more relaxed. Soon, your eyes will feel less strained and sore. Do this before bedtime and your dryness levels will improve in the morning.

5. Focus on What You Eat and Drink

When it comes to food, omega-3 fatty acids can work wonders for your dry eyes. What’s more, they may reduce lupus inflammation and flare. Natural sources like seafood, nuts, and seeds are easy to add to your daily meals.

Drinking plenty of fluids during the day is also important as dehydration can cause dry eyes. Aim for a glass of water every 90 minutes. You can also eat more water-rich foods like cucumber, tomatoes, watermelon, and peaches.

hand holding peaches in a bowl lighted by sunlight

Tip: If your diet is lacking in omega-3 fatty acids, you can also take oral supplements. But first, talk with your doctor about it.

6. Opt for Implants That Block Tear Ducts

Eye implants can keep tears from draining. As a result, your eyes stay moist and comfortable for longer. If the above treatment methods don’t work for you, discuss with your eye doctor these implants.

The procedure involves inserting tiny silicon devices called punctal plugs over your tear ducts. This will block tiny openings that drain your tears. Most punctal plugs are made of collagen and gradually dissolve on their own.

7. Make Lifestyle Changes to Combat Dry Eyes

Living with lupus is difficult. But to combat lupus-induced dry eyes, there are many things you can do, starting with how you live every day.

  • Smoking and lupus don’t mix. Nor do smoking and dry eyes. So, quit smoking today.
  • Exercise regularly, whether you enjoy solitary walks or dance parties. Aim for 10,000 steps a day if your job involves long periods of sitting down. 
  • Wear wraparound sunglasses while stepping outside. They will keep the wind and dust away. Even regular sunglasses can help.
  • Switch from contact lenses to eyeglasses.
  • Stay away from eye makeup and cosmetics that can irritate your eyes. Check our makeup tips for dry and sensitive eyes.
  • Don’t rub your eyes to relieve itchiness or dryness.
  • Clean your eyelids with warm water by the end of each day.
  • Avoid dehydrating drinks like caffeine.
  • Alcohol can cause dry eyes so better limit your intake.

Taking an eye health supplement can also help stimulate tear production and improve the quality of the tear film.

It can relieve lupus dry eye symptoms and give your eyes the nutrient boost they need to withstand oxidative damage from free radicals and environmental factors like UV light.

SightC eye health supplement from Sightsage

SightC from Sightsage is a full-spectrum vision supplement that brings together antioxidants and phytonutrients from goji berries, turmeric, and other superfoods.

Informed by decades of clinical experience in treating patients with eye complaints, SightC can help keep your eyes healthy for years to come.

Protect your eyes with SightC.

The Wrap-Up

So, are dry eyes a symptom of lupus? The answer is yes.

When it comes to lupus flare, dry eyes syndrome is one of the most common eye complications. Your eyes feel gritty and scratchy from morning to night.

To treat these painful symptoms, it’s best to fix the underlying cause of dryness. For lupus patients, that means reducing inflammation.

You can apply a warm washcloth to your eyes, eat foods high in omega-3 fatty acids, massage your eyelids, and drink plenty of fluids.

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