What eye problems can reveal about your autoimmune symptoms

Autoimmune diseases present a unique set of challenges as they involve the immune system mistakenly attacking the body's own tissues. As someone who was diagnosed with alopecia areata, psoriasis and chronic fatigue syndrome, I didn’t realise that as well as the symptoms of these autoimmune diseases, I would also experience other seemingly unrelated symptoms such as eye problems. 


While the impact of autoimmune diseases can be widespread, it's essential to recognise that the eyes, often considered the windows to our health, can provide crucial insights into your well-being, especially if you have been diagnosed with an autoimmune disease. 

In this article, we'll explore the relationship between autoimmune diseases and eye symptoms, shedding light on what these symptoms may signify and why it is vital to be proactive with your health if you experience these symptoms.

Red or bloodshot eyes

The appearance of red or bloodshot eyes can often be the first sign of something amiss. I know many clients initially dismiss this as nothing to worry about, but it's important to take it seriously.

Inflammation caused by autoimmune diseases can result in red or bloodshot eyes. Conditions like scleritis and uveitis, which are more common in individuals with autoimmune diseases, can lead to this symptom.

If you are experiencing this symptom regularly, consult an eye specialist to determine the cause.

Dry eyes

When I worked as a chartered accountant, every night at about 6pm, my eyes would stream. What I didn’t realise at the time was this is a sign that dry eyes are a hallmark of autoimmune diseases such as Sjögren's syndrome. These conditions can lead to decreased tear production and inadequate lubrication of the eyes.

While it may seem counterintuitive, watery or streaming eyes can occur with dry eyes as a result of your body's attempt to compensate for the lack of sufficient tear production. When your eyes are dry and not adequately lubricated, they can become irritated, leading to reflex tearing in an effort to relieve the discomfort and maintain moisture on the eye's surface, which is exactly what I was experiencing at work.

Managing dry eyes is essential to maintaining eye health. Sea buckthorn, rich in omega-7 fatty acids, may alleviate dry eyes by improving tear film stability and reducing discomfort. I recommend this for clients with Sjögren's syndrome regularly, and many see improvements as a result of adding this to their diet. 

Photophobia (light sensitivity)

Sensitivity to light, or photophobia, is common in autoimmune diseases, especially SLE and rheumatoid arthritis. Inflammation in the eyes can make them more sensitive to light. 

I noticed I had sensitivity to light when I started driving home at night after work, and I was blinded by the headlights of other cars. I also noticed that my sleep was affected by any light in my bedroom at night. 

Photophobia can be caused by other factors, including eye conditions like corneal abrasions, uveitis, or dry eye syndrome, as well as neurological conditions such as migraines, concussions, or infections like viral meningitis.

Sunglasses and protective eyewear can provide relief. I love the blue light-blocking glasses by Cyxus.

Eye pain

Eye pain is definitely a symptom to look out for in autoimmune diseases, particularly when they affect the eyes directly. Inflammatory conditions such as episcleritis and keratitis can cause discomfort.

In autoimmune diseases such as multiple sclerosis, eye pain can result from inflammation or damage to the optic nerve and surrounding structures, leading to discomfort and vision problems.

As with any symptom of autoimmune disease, it is always best to take a proactive approach, so if you notice any eye pain, consult your doctor to get ahead of any autoimmune flares.

Blurry vision

Blurry vision is a symptom I often see in my clients and may result from the eye not focusing on the light correctly on the retina. For those with autoimmune diseases like Sjögren's syndrome, systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE), or rheumatoid arthritis, blurry vision can result from ocular manifestations of these conditions. 

Nutrient deficiencies can also contribute to blurry vision, as nutrients like vitamin A, vitamin C, omega-3 fatty acids, zinc, and antioxidants play a role in maintaining good vision and can help prevent blurry vision due to deficiencies.

Double vision (diplopia)

Double vision is a symptom that shouldn’t be ignored. It can be caused by issues with eye muscles, nerve problems, certain neurological conditions, or underlying health problems, which is why it is important to seek medical advice if you are experiencing this symptom. 

Autoimmune diseases can affect the muscles and nerves controlling eye movement. Myasthenia gravis, for example, is an autoimmune neuromuscular disorder that can lead to diplopia and can be a challenging symptom to live with.

If you have autoimmune diseases or a chronic inflammatory condition, being vigilant about eye symptoms is crucial. Autoimmune conditions can affect the eyes in various ways, from dryness and redness to more severe manifestations like uveitis or retinal inflammation.

Regular check-ups with both your healthcare provider and an eye specialist are essential for managing eye health when autoimmune diseases are in the picture. Remember, your eyes are not just windows to your soul; they are also valuable indicators of your overall well-being.

And if you would like to explore how nutrition and functional medicine can help manage autoimmune symptoms, please get in touch. I offer a free initial consultation, which you can book here, or send me a message to see how I can help you. 

You can also download my free guide, The Autoimmunity Recovery Guide, which is a great place to start when you are looking for ways to improve your health.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author. All articles published on Nutritionist Resource are reviewed by our editorial team.

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London W1G & Harrogate HG1
Written by V. J. Hamilton, Autoimmune Disease Expert | BSc (Immunology), DipION, mBANT
London W1G & Harrogate HG1

VJ Hamilton is a qualified Nutritional Therapist and member of BANT, focusing on autoimmunity including inflammatory skin disorders, fatigue and neurological issues as well as gut health.

VJ has a BSc in Biochemistry and Immunology which she uses in her practice, using only evidence-based nutritional therapies to support chronic conditions.

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