One afternoon while I was at the office entering all of my notes for the day on my computer, I noticed that my eyes felt scratchy and tired. I’m a retired nurse and I worked one day a week for a doctor doing telephone triage, screening calls from patients and authorizing prescriptions. I figured I was just weary from staring at the computer screen all day and just needed a quick break.
As I’m walking around the clinic to stretch my legs and give my eyes a rest I stopped to visit with my nurse practitioner friend who also happened to know my medical history. I had psoriatic arthritis and was on a biological medication that could suppress my immune system.
It never occurred to me that I could have an eye condition associated with autoimmune disorders such as psoriatic arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis that if left untreated could result in permanent damage to my vision and possibly blindness.
She asked if I was ok and I replied, “Yes, just a little tired.”
She said, “Your eyes are red, are they bothering you?”
I was a little surprised that they were red and noticeable. I replied yes, they had been bothering me all afternoon. She said, let me take a quick look! So we found an empty exam room and she examined both of my eyes with an otoscope.
She told me, “I think you may have uveitis but can’t tell for sure without the proper equipment. We need to get you into an eye doctor right away!”
Uveitis?! I’d never heard of such a thing! I returned to my desk to finish up the day.
Shortly thereafter my friend stopped by and said, “All of the eye doctor clinics are closing for the day but I found one that can see you at 5pm. He said he’ll wait for you to get there.”
What??? Today? Now? How serious was this uveitis thing?
As I drove to see this eye doctor my mind was racing. What in the world is this? Is it related to my psoriatic arthritis? How concerned should I be? Why is it essential that I be seen today; couldn’t it wait until Monday?
As promised, the doctor himself was waiting. It was late on a Friday afternoon and while his staff were bustling to get out the door, he took me back to a small dimly lit exam room. There was a slit-lamp, an instrument that is able to exam both eyes in detail including the iris, cornea, and retina. As he meticulously examined my eyes, he explained that I did in fact have uveitis in both eyes and it is an inflammation of the inner most layers of the eye. The uvea, he explained, is very important because it has many veins and arteries that transport blood to the parts of the eye that are critical for vision. He further explained that uveitis can develop rapidly and if left untreated could result in permanent damage to my vision and possibly blindness. He said it is often times associated with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriatic arthritis. Besides the redness and scratchy feeling that I had, he said some people have blurred vision, floaters, photophobia (light sensitivity), headache and even eye pain. He then administered steroid drops to both of my eyes and gave me a prescription to apply the drops to both eyes every two hours for the next 24 hours.
What??? Every two hours? What about sleep? And he wanted to see me the next day, on Saturday, which was his day off. He said he wanted to make sure the medication was working.
My heart was pounding. As I was driving home I think about how many times I’ve driven this road but really never appreciated the details.
The spring flowers are in bloom and I can see a few deer eating blades of grass along the banks of the creek. The sky is a beautiful shade of blue with white fluffy clouds scattered here and there. Red winged blackbirds flit from tree to tree. A group of quail dash along the gravel road in front of my car.
As I’m driving I soak in every visual detail. Then terror hits. What if the medication doesn’t work? Will I go blind? My mind is racing and the tears are streaming down my face. Oh how I hate this damn disease!
When I went home I applied the eye drops every two hours as instructed. By the next morning, I was relieved that the scratchy feeling was gone. Later, the doctor examined my eyes and confirmed that the uveitis was clearing up.
Since then I have added yearly checkups at the eye doctor to my to-do list. I’ve only had one other bout of uveitis but thankfully it was caught early and quickly resolved with treatment. I now know the signs, and if you have psoriatic arthritis or rheumatoid arthritis, so should you.