Systemic lupus erythematosus (SLE) is a chronic autoimmune disorder that can cause inflammation in many body parts, including the tissues of the eyes, which can lead to dry eyes.

Lupus is a condition in which the immune system attacks the body’s tissues. This can cause swelling and lead to damage in different parts of the body.

SLE is the most common type of lupus. It can cause inflammation in the eye and may increase a person’s risk of medication-related eye damage.

This article explores the link between lupus and dry eyes, other ways lupus may affect the eyes, treatment options, and more.

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According to a 2021 research review, dry eye occurs in up to 32% of people with SLE, making it one of the most frequent eye concerns in people with SLE.

Another autoimmune disease called secondary Sjögren disease frequently occurs in individuals with SLE. In Sjögren disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks the glands that make tears and saliva, reducing the amount of tears a person can produce.

Symptoms of dry eyes may include:

According to research from 2021, SLE can also increase the risk of the following eye conditions:

  • Scleritis: This is a painful condition that causes inflammation of the white part of the eye. People with scleritis may have red eyes.
  • Cataracts: Cataracts cause the lens of the eye to become cloudy or opaque, potentially disrupting vision.
  • Glaucoma: Glaucoma occurs when poor fluid drainage in the eye causes the pressure in the eye to increase, which can permanently damage the optic nerve.
  • Retinal vascular occlusion: This occurs when a blockage stops the flow of blood to or from the retina. This condition can cause permanent vision loss.
  • Retinal vasculitis: This condition causes the blood vessels of the retina to become inflamed.
  • Episcleritis: This condition causes inflammation of the tissue between the white part of the eye and the surface membrane.

People with SLE can also have eye issues related to SLE medications, such as steroid-induced glaucoma. Some individuals with SLE may also experience hypertensive retinopathy, which is when high blood pressure damages blood vessels in the retina.

There is no cure for SLE or Sjögren disease, which may occur in people with SLE. However, if SLE or other autoimmune conditions are causing dry eyes, healthcare professionals may be able to help people manage the symptoms.

Some treatment options they may recommend include the following:

  • Artificial tears or eye drops: These are available over the counter and may help alleviate dryness, reduce irritation, and improve overall eye comfort.
  • Prescription medication: For very serious eye dryness, doctors may prescribe cyclosporine or lifitegrast to help eyes make more tears.
  • Corticosteroids: Doctors may prescribe corticosteroids, such as prednisone, to help decrease inflammation.
  • Nonsteroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs): NSAIDs can help decrease pain and other conditions due to inflammation.
  • Immune system suppressants: In cases where dry eyes are due to Sjögren disease, the doctor may prescribe medications to suppress the immune system and reduce inflammation.

If SLE is causing other eye conditions, the treatment approach may vary depending on the specific eye condition.

Treating SLE depends on how the autoimmune condition affects a person’s body. Typically, treatment aims to reduce flares, inflammation, and damage to organs.

Individuals with SLE who are experiencing symptoms of dry eyes should speak with their doctor. Early interventions and proper management can help prevent complications, reduce discomfort, and improve quality of life.

Symptoms that suggest possible dry eyes include:

  • persistent grittiness or sandy sensation in the eyes
  • redness or irritation of the eyes
  • sensitivity to light
  • blurred vision
  • discomfort when wearing contact lenses

In addition, if a person notices any changes in their vision or new eye-related symptoms, seeking prompt medical attention is a good idea.

SLE is an autoimmune disease that can cause inflammation of the eyes and symptoms of dry eyes. Some individuals with SLE may also experience Sjögren disease, a condition in which the immune system attacks tear-producing glands of the eyes.

Treatment for dry eyes due to SLE involves managing the underlying autoimmune condition and addressing the dryness symptoms. Artificial tears or lubricating eye drops may alleviate dryness and discomfort.

If someone with SLE experiences symptoms of dry eyes, such as persistent dryness, redness, or light sensitivity, they should speak with a doctor promptly to receive treatment.