Juvenile arthritis is among the leading causes of arthritis in children. It is an autoimmune disease, which means the immune system of the child attacks its own body. Children who have juvenile arthritis, apart from joint problems, may also develop problems with their eyes. Even though the eye problems are caused by the disease itself, they can also be due to the medication that the child is taking.
Eye problems faced by children with juvenile arthritis
Uveitis is the most common eye problem faced by children with juvenile arthritis. In this condition, the uvea, which is in the inner part of the eyes, gets inflamed. Ciliary body, iris, and the choroid make up the uvea. If uveitis is left untreated, it can lead to other serious complications such as cataracts and glaucoma. In rare cases, it even causes blindness.
Uveitis can occur before, during or after the onset of juvenile arthritis. In some cases, it occurs about a year before the onset. In other cases, it starts together with the juvenile arthritis. There are cases where uveitis occurs about 15 years after the diagnosis of juvenile arthritis or even when the disease is in remission.
Signs and symptoms
The inflammation that uveitis brings along with it is not painful and the eyes do not redden as in conjunctivitis. Essentially, children with uveitis exhibit no discernable symptoms. In some cases, children report blurriness of vision and problems with bright lights but only rarely. The progression of the symptoms is usually very slow, and by the time they become apparent, the permanent eye damage would have already been caused.
Diagnosis and follow up
Your child’s treating doctor would most probably ask you to take your child to an ophthalmologist or cataract surgeon in Warren. The doctor would check the vision of the child after dilating the pupils using eye drops. The physician would then make use of a special microscope to check the condition of the eyes together with a thin beam of light that enables visualization of the insides of the eyes. A visual field exam is also done to check if the vision has changed.
The doctor will recommend periodic follow-up examinations, the frequency of which would depend on the duration of the disease and its severity. Uveitis is more common in children with certain types of juvenile arthritis like oligoarthritis. Follow ups are recommended every 3 to 4 months with this condition. With polyarthritis and systemic juvenile arthritis, follow ups are recommended every 6 and 12 months respectively. It must be kept in mind that visits to ophthalmologist must continue even when the disease is in remission.