Autoimmune Disease and Eye Health

You’ve probably heard the saying, “The eyes are the windows to the soul,” but it’s less well-known that the eyes are often the windows to our physical health. Since May is Healthy Vision Month, let’s look into how physical health and eye health are related when it comes to the increasingly common disorders known as “autoimmune disease.”

An autoimmune disease happens when your immune system, instead of protecting your body, accidentally attacks it. It’s unclear why your immune system does this. According to the Cleveland Clinic, there are over 100 known autoimmune diseases.

When you have an autoimmune disease, your immune system damages healthy cells, including the ones in your eyes. Here are examples of how your eyes can be affected by some autoimmune disorders:

Rheumatoid Arthritis may cause dry eyes when the immune system attacks the tear ducts or, in some cases, the white part of the eye (sclera). The result is an inflammation called scleritis which may make the eyes red, painful, and light-sensitive.
Lupus can harm the eyes in a variety of ways, including by inflaming the eye tissues themselves, damaging the nerves that control movement and vision, and damaging the skin of the eyelids. The most common eye issues experienced by people with lupus, however, are changes to the blood vessels in the retina that may result in restricted vision.
Psoriasis causes an extreme buildup of skin cells on the surface of the skin all over the body, including the eyelids. Red, scaly areas may develop and cause pain when you open and close your eyes, or the skin may become dry and cracked.
Multiple Sclerosis (MS) targets the brain and nervous system and can cause vision problems. In fact, inflammation of the optic nerve may be one of the first signs of MS.

Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an autoimmune disorder, regular eye exams with an Atlantic Eye ophthalmologist will help you take care of your vision and, in some cases, may provide an early warning of an underlying health problem. (See our story of one life-saving call at