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How Juvenile Arthritis Affects the Eyes

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Juvenile arthritis, also called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis or childhood arthritis, is the most common type of arthritis to affect children. It’s can affect many parts of the body, including the eyes.

A child who has juvenile arthritis may develop problems with her eyes. The problems may be caused by the disease or by medications the child takes for the disease.

The most common eye problem is inflammation in a part of the eye called the uvea. Doctors call this condition “uveitis.” If it affects specific parts of the uvea, it may also be called iritis or iridocyclitis.

Untreated and severe uveitis can scar the eye. It can also cause vision problems, such as:

  • Glaucoma, a condition that causes high pressure in the eye
  • Cataracts, a clouding of the lens of the eye
  • Permanent vision damage, including blindness

Uveitis can start up to 1 year before your child gets a diagnosis of juvenile arthritis. Or it could happen at the same time, or years later. It can even happen years after juvenile arthritis is in remission, which means that the disease is not active.

How can I tell if my child is developing eye problems related to juvenile arthritis?

Eye inflammation is usually not painful. And the eyes are not usually red as they are in conjunctivitis. So most children with juvenile arthritis who develop eye problems do not have any symptoms.

It’s rare, but a child might complain of blurred vision or of light bothering her eyes. Sometimes, a child's eyes might look red or cloudy. But these types of symptoms usually develop so slowly that permanent eye damage can happen before she notices any trouble with seeing.

In order to find eye problems early and prevent them from causing damage, your rheumatologist (a doctor who specializes in treating arthritis) will schedule frequent appointments with a pediatric ophthalmologist. That's a medical doctor who specializes in children’s eye diseases.

What will happen during my child's appointment with an ophthalmologist?

Tell the ophthalmologist about the medicines that your child takes. You can get the names of the medicines, the dosages, and the reasons they have been prescribed from your rheumatologist.

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