If you’ve noticed redness, swelling, and tenderness in one or both of your eyes, it may not be that they’re bloodshot, it could be a serious inflammatory condition called scleritis. Scleritis is usually a sign of developing autoimmune disease such as lupus, rheumatoid arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease.
Are your eyes trying to tell you something?
Bloodshot Eyes or Scleritis?
When it first starts, scleritis can look a lot like typical bloodshot eyes or even the beginning of conjunctivitis, but scleritis is a much more serious problem.
According to statistics, 50 percent of scleritis cases are associated with the development of an autoimmune disease.
If your eyes are just bloodshot, you may feel a stinging sensation in your eyes, accompanied by the appearance of small, red lines across the white parts of your eyes. Bloodshot eyes can be the result of dry eye, allergies, contact lenses irritating the eye, not blinking often enough, or frequent crying spells.
These symptoms are usually relieved with eye drops, rest, removal of contact lenses, or taking an antihistamine.
However, scleritis is a different story. This isn’t just a bloodshot eye, this is an eye where the white area is almost completely red as though the eye sustained a physical injury. Furthermore, unlike bloodshot eyes, scleritis is usually quite painful.
Common symptoms of scleritis include:
- Red patches on the whites of the eye
- Severe eye pain and tenderness (that responds poorly to pain relievers)
- Blurry vision
- Painful sensitivity to light
- Tearing of the eye
Diseases Associated With Scleritis
Below is a short list of the most common diseases associated with scleritis. Autoimmune disease can be very tricky to diagnose since many of these conditions have overlapping symptoms that may present differently in each patient.
If your scleritis is accompanied by any of the symptoms listed below, you may be developing an autoimmune disease that requires an immediate visit to your doctor.
According to the Lupus Foundation of America, “Scleritis occurs in approximately one percent of people with lupus and may be the first sign of the disease.”
Lupus is a chronic autoimmune disease known to affect the central nervous system, skin, heart, lungs, blood vessels, and joints. The most common effects lupus has on the eyes include dry eyes, eye inflammation, nerve damage, and impaired vision.
Classic signs of lupus include joint pain, swelling, and stiffness in the morning. For example, you may go to bed feeling fine and wake up feeling as though you’ve been hit by an 18-wheeler. Your joints may be stiff, swollen, and sore, and you may experience inflammation that makes it difficult to put on or take off jewelry such as rings.
Since joint pain and swelling is common in both rheumatoid arthritis and lupus, the two conditions can be easily confused with each other. The most notable difference between the two is where the pain of RA usually affects both sides of the body equally, lupus can affect joints on just one side of the body and not the other.
Furthermore, lupus tends to develop in younger patients (although the condition can develop in your 30s and 40s).
Another classic symptom of lupus is the “butterfly rash”. This is a skin rash that develops when your skin is exposed to sunlight. It primarily extends from the bridge of the nose to the cheekbone and to the jawbone.
Kidney problems are also a well-known symptom of lupus, but they usually occur as the disease progresses. Early symptoms might include water retention and swelling, and, in serious cases, blood in the urine.
Due to the inflammation and water retention caused by lupus, it can also cause sharp chest pain, especially when you try to take a deep breath.
Other signs of lupus include fatigue, hair loss, mouth sores, seizures, disorientation, psychotic episodes, and memory loss.
Another common autoimmune disease that can cause scleritis as a symptom is rheumatoid arthritis. The symptoms of this condition are a result of chronic inflammation of the joint tissue and/or an accumulation of synovial fluid.
Joint pain and tenderness, especially in the morning, is the most common symptom of RA. Usually, this pain is felt most when the disease is active and flaring.
If RA has affected the nerves within the joint, it can cause the joints to feel tender to the touch. Even the slightest pressure can cause immediate pain, enough to wake you up out of a sound sleep!
Joint swelling can limit mobility and reduce range of motion. Furthermore, when joints are swollen, it can also cause an isolated area of redness to develop on the skin.
It is also important to note that during a flare-up of RA, joints can become inflamed and feel warm to the touch, even if there are no outward signs of redness.
In cases where rheumatoid arthritis has gone undetected and untreated for years, joint deformity can result.
The most common areas of the body affected by RA include:
- Hands (fingers and knuckles)
This is a rare condition that is associated with a group of blood vessel disorders called vasculitis. It commonly causes inflammation in the blood vessels of the nose, sinuses, throat, lungs, and kidneys. This condition slows the blood flow to some of your organs, and affected tissues may develop areas of inflammation called ‘granulomas’, which can have a negative impact on organ function.
Unlike lupus and rheumatoid arthritis, this condition can develop suddenly or over a period of several months. Without treatment, it can worsen quite quickly, which can have a sudden and profound impact on the health of your blood vessels and organs.
In addition to its rarity, the other problem with properly diagnosing this condition is that it can start off looking like a case of chronic sinus problems or allergies.
Signs and symptoms of granulomatosis with polyangiitis might include:
- Sinus infections
- Stuffy nose
- Pus-like drainage with crusts from your nose
- Coughing (sometimes with bloody mucus) and wheezing
- Shortness of breath
However, as the condition progresses, symptoms may worsen in severity and can cause serious health complications.
These symptoms include:
- Joint pain
- Unexplained weight loss
- Numb sensation in extremities
- Bloody urine
- Eye pain, burning, redness, and vision problems
- Inflammation of the ears and hearing difficulties
Inflammatory Bowel Disease
If you’re experiencing red and painful eye symptoms as well as chronic stomach symptoms, it may be due to inflammatory bowel disease. The two most common types of inflammatory bowel disease are Crohn’s disease and ulcerative colitis.
The symptoms of these conditions may vary depending on the location (where in the digestive tract) and severity of inflammation.
- Chronic diarrhea
- Bleeding ulcers
- Chronic stomach pain
- Blood in the stool
- Cramping and bloating
- Mouth sores
- Sudden weight loss
In addition to these symptoms, some people with IBD with develop ulcers and fissures around their genital area or anus.
Furthermore, eye inflammation, skin disorders, and arthritis can all be associated with IBD.
If any of these symptoms sound familiar to you, make an appointment with your doctor. If he or she doesn’t listen or take you seriously, seek a second opinion. Your symptoms are real, and you deserve to be treated with respect and given the medical care you need. Fight for your diagnosis, and don’t give up!