Last Updated on July 6, 2023 by Steven Root
Crohn’s disease is well-known for its impact on the digestive system, however it can also affect the eyes. In this comprehensive guide, we will delve deep into the connection between Crohn’s disease and eye health. We’ll reveal symptoms to watch out for, possible complications, and available treatments. With this knowledge, those living with Crohn’s disease can be better prepared to protect their vision and overall eye health.
Can Crohn’s Disease Cause Eye Problems?
Crohn’s disease is a systemic disease which means it can influence other parts of the body as well, including the eyes.
According to a study published in “Medicine,” up to 12% of people with Crohn’s disease experience ocular manifestations. In patients with Crohn’s disease, the immune system mistakenly attacks healthy cells in the body, including in the eyes, resulting in inflammation.
It’s important to note that the severity of eye problems in Crohn’s disease varies greatly. Some people may experience mild, manageable symptoms that come and go. Others, however, may suffer from severe conditions that can cause permanent damage if left untreated.
Certain eye conditions are more commonly associated with Crohn’s disease than others. We’ll discuss several of these later in this article.
So, can Crohn’s disease cause eye problems? Absolutely, and these problems can significantly affect a person’s quality of life. That’s why it’s so crucial for patients with Crohn’s disease and their healthcare providers to be aware of the connection, to monitor for symptoms, and to address any eye issues as soon as they arise.
Crohn’s Disease Eye Problem Risk Factors
When it comes to the likelihood of experiencing eye problems as a result of Crohn’s disease, several risk factors come into play.
First, the severity of intestinal symptoms is closely linked to the development of ocular issues. Studies indicate that individuals with more severe or active Crohn’s disease are more likely to experience eye problems.
Another significant risk factor is the duration of the disease. Long-standing Crohn’s disease, particularly if poorly controlled, increases the likelihood of eye problems. The continual triggering of the immune response can lead to chronic inflammation, not just in the digestive tract but also in the eyes (source).
Genetic predisposition also plays a role. Just as some people are genetically predisposed to develop Crohn’s disease, certain individuals may have a genetic predisposition to the eye conditions associated with the disease (source).
Lastly, the presence of other complications or comorbidities can increase the risk. For example, individuals with Crohn’s who also have arthritis, skin disorders, or liver disease may be at a higher risk of developing eye problems (source).
Given these risk factors, it’s important that people with Crohn’s disease have regular eye exams. Especially if they have severe symptoms, a longer disease history, a family history of eye problems, or other Crohn’s-related complications.
Crohn’s Disease Can Cause These Eye Problems
Crohn’s disease can lead to a range of eye conditions. While some of these are less serious and more common, others can be severe and even lead to loss of vision.
- Uveitis: This is an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, the uvea. Symptoms can include redness, pain, light sensitivity, and blurred vision. If left untreated, it can lead to cataracts, glaucoma, or retinal damage.
- Episcleritis: This condition involves inflammation of the episclera, the thin layer of tissue covering the white part of the eye. It can cause redness and eye discomfort but usually doesn’t affect vision.
- Scleritis: A more severe form of inflammation, scleritis affects the white outer coating of the eye, causing significant pain, redness, and possibly blurred vision. It can lead to vision loss if not treated.
- Dry Eye Syndrome: This condition occurs when the eyes don’t produce enough fluid or the right quality of fluid. Symptoms include a stinging or burning sensation, stringy mucus in or around the eyes, increased eye irritation from smoke or wind, and difficulty wearing contact lenses.
- Keratopathy (Corneal problems): Crohn’s disease can also lead to problems with the cornea, the clear outer layer at the front of the eye. This can result in eye redness, pain, light sensitivity, and decreased vision.
Crohn’s Disease Eye Symptoms To Look Out For
Per the above, the symptoms of eye problems associated with Crohn’s disease can vary depending on the type of condition. However, there are common signs and symptoms that individuals with Crohn’s disease should be aware of.
Early detection is necessary to prevent serious complications. It is important to seek medical attention promptly if these symptoms are experienced.
- Redness: One of the first signs of an eye problem is redness in one or both eyes. It could indicate inflammation or irritation, such as in episcleritis or uveitis.
- Pain: Eye pain, especially when it’s associated with movement, could be a symptom of several conditions, including scleritis.
- Blurred vision: If you notice a sudden or gradual change in vision, this could be a sign of uveitis or other serious eye conditions.
- Light sensitivity: Known as photophobia, sensitivity to light can be uncomfortable and may be a sign of inflammation within the eye.
- Dryness: Chronic dry eyes can lead to a gritty or sandy sensation in the eyes. While dry eyes can be caused by many factors, it’s more common in people with Crohn’s disease.
- Tearing: An overproduction of tears can also be a symptom, especially in conditions like dry eye syndrome, where the eyes may produce additional fluids to compensate for the dryness.
- Eye floaters: These are small moving spots that appear in your field of vision. They can be a sign of inflammation in the back of the eye.
Crohn’s Disease Eye Problem Complications
If left untreated, these eye conditions can lead to serious complications. Timely diagnosis and appropriate treatment are essential to prevent them. They include:
- Vision loss: This is the most severe complication and can occur from conditions like uveitis, scleritis, and keratopathy. Inflammation can cause damage to the eye structures, leading to permanent vision loss if not treated promptly.
- Cataracts: Chronic inflammation, as well as long-term use of certain medications like corticosteroids, can lead to the development of cataracts. Cataracts cloud the eye’s natural lens, leading to blurred or cloudy vision.
- Glaucoma: Inflammatory eye conditions can increase the pressure in the eye, leading to glaucoma. Over time, this high pressure can damage the optic nerve, the nerve that transmits visual information from the eye to the brain.
- Macular edema: This is a build-up of fluid in the macula, the part of the retina responsible for central vision. It can distort vision and, if left untreated, can lead to vision loss.
Diagnosing Crohn’s Disease Eye Problems
The diagnosis of eye problems in individuals with Crohn’s disease involves a comprehensive eye exam. This often includes:
- Visual acuity test: This test measures how well you see at distances.
- Slit-lamp exam: The doctor uses a special instrument to examine the structures at the front of your eye.
- Ophthalmoscopy: This is an examination of the back of your eye, including your retina and optic nerve.
- Tonometry: This test measures the pressure inside your eye.
- Specialized imaging tests: These include tests like Optical Coherence Tomography (OCT) to get a detailed image of the eye’s structures.
The doctor may also ask about any changes in vision, pain, light sensitivity, or other symptoms. In some cases, they may refer you to a specialist for further investigation and treatment.
Treating Crohn’s Disease Eye Problems
The treatment of eye problems in Crohn’s disease is two-fold and involves managing the eye condition itself, and controlling the systemic inflammation caused by Crohn’s disease.
- Topical treatments: These include corticosteroid eye drops or ointments to reduce inflammation. For dry eye syndrome, artificial tears or lubricating ointments can help.
- Systemic medications: If the eye condition is severe or doesn’t respond to topical treatments, systemic medications may be needed. These can include oral corticosteroids, immunosuppressive drugs, or biologics.
- Surgery: In rare cases, if complications like cataracts or glaucoma develop, surgical intervention may be necessary.
- Crohn’s disease management: Effective control of Crohn’s disease can help to prevent or manage eye conditions. A big part of this is diet. Enquire here for help with your diet.
- Regular follow-ups: Given the potential for serious eye complications, regular follow-ups with both the gastroenterologist and ophthalmologist are necessary.
When To See A Doctor
If you have Crohn’s disease and start experiencing any of the eye symptoms above, you should see a doctor immediately. Eye redness, pain, light sensitivity, changes in vision, and excessive tearing or dryness can all be signs of an eye condition related to Crohn’s disease.
Additionally, regular eye exams are recommended for individuals with Crohn’s disease, even in the absence of symptoms. This is especially important if you have severe Crohn’s disease, a long history of the disease, or a family history of eye problems. Early detection of any eye issues can prevent complications and protect your vision.
- Crohn’s disease can affect the eyes. It can cause several eye conditions, including uveitis, episcleritis, scleritis, dry eye syndrome, and corneal problems.
- Symptoms can include eye redness, pain, light sensitivity, changes in vision, and excessive tearing or dryness.
- Eye problems are diagnosed through a comprehensive eye exam, including a visual acuity test, slit-lamp exam, ophthalmoscopy, and tonometry.
- Treatment involves managing the eye condition with topical treatments or systemic medications, and making diet and lifestyle changes that positively affect Crohn’s symptoms overall.
- If left untreated, some eye conditions linked to Crohn’s disease can lead to serious complications, including vision loss.