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How Exams Can Reveal Autoimmune Diseases

While autoimmune diseases often produce a wide variety of systemic signs and symptoms, some of the most obvious symptoms may be revealed during eye exams. Autoimmune diseases refer to when your own immune system attacks the tissues, internal organs, and cells in your body by accident. Autoimmune diseases include type I diabetes, lupus, Graves' disease, multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis, and Sjogren's syndrome. Here are some manifestations of autoimmune diseases that your optometrist may discover during your eye exam. 

Corneal Abrasions And Excessive Dryness

Certain autoimmune disorders such as Sjogren's syndrome can cause corneal abrasions and dry eyes. Sjogren's syndrome often affects the salivary glands and tear ducts. In addition to dry and irritated eyes, it can lead to dry mouth and difficulty swallowing. Blepharitis, redness, and drainage from the tear ducts may also be noticed during your eye examination if you have an autoimmune disease. Blepharitis refers to the inflammation of the eyelids, in addition to eyelid swelling, severe itching, oily eyelids, and crusted eyelids.

While your eye doctor may be able to determine that you have dry eyes just by examining them, they may perform a special test called a Shirmer test to confirm the diagnosis. For this test, the doctor places thin strips of absorbent paper under your eyelids, and after a few minutes, they check how much of the paper has been soaked by the tears that you have produced. If the paper strips only have a small amount of liquid on them from your tears, a dry eye diagnosis can be confirmed.


Exophthalmos is an ocular disorder where one or both of the eyeballs protrude or bulge from the socket. It is most commonly seen in the autoimmune disorder known as Graves' disease, also called hyperthyroidism. Exophthalmos may also be accompanied by corneal inflammation, conjunctivitis, eye drainage, redness, excessive tearing, and problems with the eye muscles.

Your optometrist may ask you to look from side to side or up and down during your eye examination so that they can assess eye muscle function. Treatment for exophthalmos may include artificial tear eye drops, corticosteroid medication to decrease inflammation, wearing sunglasses to decrease eye sensitivity to light, and seeing your endocrinologist on a regular basis to help make sure that your autoimmune disease is being well-managed.

If you have any of the above eye symptoms of an autoimmune disease, see your eye doctor as soon as possible. With the proper treatment, autoimmune-related eye symptoms can be effectively managed to help relieve eye pain, dryness, inflammation, and visual deficits. Go to related sites to learn more about eye exams near you.