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How Juvenile Arthritis Affects the Eyes

Juvenile arthritis is an autoimmune disease. This means the immune system attacks its own body. Juvenile arthritis, also called juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, childhood arthritis, and Still's disease, is the most common type of arthritis to affect children. In juvenile arthritis, the immune system targets the tissue that lines the inside of joints. That tissue is known as the synovium. The synovium's response is to make excess fluid called synovial fluid. That causes swelling, pain, and stiffness. Inflammation may cause damage to cartilage and bone and may spread to other parts of the body, such as the eyes.

WebMD takes a look at how juvenile arthritis affects the eyes and provides tips on how to protect your child's eyes.

How does juvenile arthritis affect the eyes?

A child who has juvenile arthritis may develop problems with his or her eyes. The problems may be caused by the disease. In some cases, though, the problem may be caused by the medications the child takes for the disease.

The most common eye problem that can develop in children with juvenile arthritis is uveitis. Uveitis is an inflammation of the inner parts of the eye in a section called the uvea. The uvea consists of the following:

  • iris -- the colored part of the eye
  • ciliary body -- which makes fluid inside the eye and controls the movement of the lens
  • the choroid -- the lining that covers the eyeball from the iris all the way around the eye

When uveitis affects specific parts of the eye it may also be called iritis or iridocyclitis.

Untreated and severe uveitis can cause scarring of the eye. It can also cause vision problems. Other complications include:

  • glaucoma -- a condition that causes high pressure in the eye
  • cataracts -- clouding of the lens of the eye
  • permanent vision damage, including blindness

Uveitis can occur one year before diagnosis with juvenile arthritis. Or it could occur at the same time that juvenile arthritis is diagnosed or even up to 15 years after the diagnosis. Uveitis can also occur several years after juvenile arthritis is in remission -- a time when 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.

On a rare occasion, a child might complain of blurred vision or of light bothering his or her eyes. Sometimes, a child's eyes might look red or cloudy. However, these types of symptoms usually develop so slowly that permanent eye damage can occur before any trouble seeing is noticed.

In order to detect 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 diagnosing and treating eye diseases.

WebMD Medical Reference

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