At age 14, I was lucky enough to spend a week at a sleepaway camp for kids with juvenile arthritis. My parents felt a lot of comfort in knowing I was with other kids with rheumatic diseases. But what was shocking to my parents was learning that while I was there, I also met some kids who suffered severe vision issues and legal blindness. Unfortunately, it’s a harsh and somewhat common reality for kids with JA.
Juvenile arthritis is not exclusive to the joints. In fact, it’s notorious for causing inflammation in the eye, a condition called uveitis. There are three types of uveitis: anterior uveitis (the most common), intermediate uveitis, and posterior uveitis. Some kids are at a higher risk than others, particularly preschoolers and those with positive antinuclear antibody (ANA) blood tests. But it’s still something all kids with JA need to be checked for regularly.
Regular eye appointments
Uveitis is a scary issue for kids with JA. In about half of cases, it shows no obvious symptoms at first. When this happens, symptoms may only show up once the damage has occurred. That delay in treatment can, unfortunately, lead to cataracts, glaucoma, and other issues that may lead to vision loss.
For that reason, it’s important to be vigilant. It also may mean extra appointments to the ophthalmologist to screen for inflammation. Younger kids and those with positive ANA blood tests may go as often as every three months. When eye issues are caught early, there’s a much better chance of getting the inflammation under control before permanent issues occur.
Early detection and treatment can help save your child’s vision. Often, uveitis is treated by both the ophthalmologist and rheumatologist. Treatments may include steroids in the form of pills, eye drops, or injections. Some patients may require biologics or other immunosuppressive medicines, such as methotrexate.
My personal plea
Listen to your child’s rheumatologist and schedule eye appointments as often as they recommend. I know it can be inconvenient, and it may be an appointment that upsets your child. But preserving your child’s vision is absolutely worth it. I was very fortunate to never deal with uveitis as a child. However, I do know quite a few adults who became legally blind as children due to uncontrolled uveitis. For that reason, I urge all JA parents to be aware of the dangers of untreated uveitis.
Note: Juvenile Arthritis News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Juvenile Arthritis News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to juvenile arthritis.