Juvenile Arthritis & The Eye

Posted on October 30, 2017

Juvenile Arthritis & The Eye
By: Jeffrey Colburn, MD

Juvenile Idiopathic Arthritis (JIA), formerly known as Juvenile Rheumatoid Arthritis, is an autoimmune disease that attacks the joints in children. Many people are surprised to learn that this disease can also attack the eyes.

Inflammation inside the front of the eye is called iritis. Most of the time iritis will cause symptoms of eye pain, eye redness, extreme light sensitivity, and blurred vision. When these things happens, it is clear that something is wrong. However, JIA patients commonly get iritis with no symptoms at all. They do not complain of eye pain or light sensitivity. Their eyes do not appear red and if they have blurry vision they don’t mention it. Therefore these children can have smoldering inflammation in their eyes causing significant damage before anyone knows there is a problem. This can cause life-long eye and vision complications including the formation of scar tissue in the eye, glaucoma, cataracts, and swelling of the retina.

For this reason, the primary physician or rheumatologist will send JIA children for regular screening eye exams utilizing a microscope to watch for any sign of trouble. Your ophthalmologist will schedule rechecks every 3-6 months depending on the sub-type of JIA and the patient’s blood work. If iritis does occur, it can usually be controlled with either eye drops or systemic medications.

If your child or someone you know has JIA, make sure that they are getting the regular eye exams they need to watch for any sign of trouble. As always, please feel free to leave comments or ask questions below.

(The photos below from Eyerounds.org from the University of Iowa show scar tissue between the iris and the lens in a JIA patient. For more, see the case at: http://webeye.ophth.uiowa.edu/…/154-JIA-associated-uveitis-…)

Figure 1