Iritis: Symptoms, Causes & Treatments

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What is Iritis?

Iritis is swelling and irritation in the iris of your eye. The iris is the colored ring around the eye’s pupil. It is located on the front part of the uvea, which is the middle layer of the eye between the retina and the white of the eye.

Uveitis occurs when any part of the uvea is swollen. Iritis (also called anterior uveitis) is the most common type of uveitis. Sometimes it’s caused by an underlying condition or genetics, but the cause is usually unknown. 

Most cases of iritis clear up with the use of steroid eye drops. If left untreated, iritis can lead to glaucoma or vision loss. 

What Causes Iritis?

Many people develop iritis without ever knowing the cause. It might be linked to trauma, disease, or genetics. 

Some of the most common causes of iritis include:

  • Eye injury, including blunt force trauma, chemical burns, or penetrating injuries
  • Viral infections that occur near your eyes, including cold sores, shingles, and the like
  • Infections linked to toxoplasmosis, parasites, histoplasmosis, fungus, tuberculosis, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs)
  • Genetic predisposition to autoimmune diseases, including ankylosing spondylitis (a type of arthritis), reactive arthritis, psoriatic arthritis, and inflammatory bowel disease (IBS)
  • Behcet’s disease, a rare condition that causes mouth sores, joint problems, and genital sores
  • Sarcoidosis, an autoimmune disease that triggers the growth of inflammatory cells in the body
  • Juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, a common type of arthritis that affects children
  • Certain medications, including rifabutin (Mycobutin) and cidofovir, both of which are used to treat HIV, and bisphosphonates, which are used to treated osteoporosis

What are the Symptoms of Iritis? 

Symptoms of iritis include:

  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to bright light
  • Discomfort
  • Aching
  • Decreased vision 

Iritis can develop suddenly or gradually. Eye pain is usually the first indication of a problem. When it develops within hours or days, it’s categorized as acute iritis. Gradual and/or long-lasting symptoms (three months or more) indicates chronic iritis.

Who is at Risk of Developing Iritis?

Anyone can develop iritis, but some people have a higher risk. You might have an increased risk of iritis if you have:

  • The HLA-B27 genetic alteration that affects immune system function
  • A sexually transmitted infection, such as HIV/AIDS or syphilis
  • Weakened immunity or an autoimmune disorder
  • A nicotine addiction or frequent smoking 

Iritis can be caused by eye trauma. If you experience an eye injury, which can happen to anyone, it can result in iritis. This is one of the reasons it’s so important to protect your eyes when engaging in activities that put your vision at risk.

Is Iritis Dangerous? What are the Potential Complications?

Iritis can be dangerous if left untreated. Potential complications associated with untreated iritis include:

  • Cataracts, which create a cloud around the lens of the eye
  • Irregular pupils due to scar tissue that causes the iris to stick to the lens or cornea of the eye
  • Glaucoma, which causes increased pressure in the eye and can lead to blindness
  • Calcium deposits on the cornea that leads to degeneration of the cornea and decreased vision ability
  • Swelling in the retina, which leads to blurred or decreased vision
  • Fluid-filled cysts in the retina (cystoid macular edema)

When to See a Doctor for Iritis

You should see an eye doctor as soon as possible if you have symptoms of iritis. Prompt treatment prevents serious complications from developing. 

If you experience eye pain and/or blurred vision or other vision problems in addition to symptoms of iritis, seek urgent medical care. Iritis can lead to permanent vision loss, so it’s important to take symptoms seriously, even if you think the problem will clear up.

In addition to seeing your eye doctor if you suspect you have iritis, you might also want to schedule a consultation with your primary care physician. Sometimes, iritis is a secondary symptom of other medical conditions. 

If iritis isn’t caused by trauma to the eye or another known cause, it’s important to determine if there is an underlying condition occurring. It’s possible to discover you have an autoimmune condition or other health issues while dealing with iritis symptoms. 

How is Iritis Diagnosed?

The exam for patients with symptoms of iritis include:

  • External exam. Using a penlight, your doctor will look at your pupils, look for patterns of redness, and check for discharge from the eyes.
  • Visual acuity. Like most eye exams, an iritis exam includes the viewing of a vision chart and other tests to determine if the condition affects your vision.
  • Slit-lamp exam. After dilating your pupils, your doctor will use a special microscope to view the inside of your eye and look for symptoms of iritis.

If your doctor suspects iritis and there’s no obvious cause, your eye doctor might suggest a routine exam with your primary care physician or order blood tests and/or x-rays to determine the cause.

Treatment for Iritis (Professional, Drugs + At-Home Options)

The goal of iritis treatment is to relieve pain and inflammation and prevent permanent vision problems. Treatment includes:

  • Steroid eye drops to reduce inflammation
  • Dilating eye drops to reduce pain and prevent further complications
  • Oral medications if eye drops do not alleviate symptoms

If you cannot see a doctor right away and iritis is causing you discomfort, there are a few at-home treatment options available. But it’s important to seek medical attention if your symptoms do not clear up in a day or two using at-home options.

At-home treatments for iritis that may or may not alleviate symptoms include:

  • Fish oil to reduce the inflammation and strengthen immunity
  • Amla to boost overall health and functioning
  • Drumstick leaves to alleviate the risk of many eye disorders (contains high levels of vitamin A, vitamin C, and essential amino acids)
  • Flaxseeds to promote overall eye health (rich in omega 3 fatty acids)
  • Holy basil or tulsi for overall eye health (a powerful antioxidant that has anti-inflammatory properties that prevent oxidative stress)

Many of these supplements boost overall eye health and are relatively safe for most people to use. It’s important to speak to your doctor before using supplements and to not rely on supplements as a cure-all for iritis. Keep in mind: many of these herbal supplements have not been proven through substantial medical studies to be safe or effective.

Can Iritis Go Away on its Own? 

Iritis caused by trauma usually clears up on its own within a couple of weeks. Non-traumatic iritis can take weeks or months to heal. 

However, it’s important to see a doctor if you suspect iritis because it can cause complications. 

Treating iritis with medication reduces discomfort, as well as the risk of secondary problems. Left untreated, iritis can lead to serious eye-health problems, including glaucoma, cataracts, and vision loss. 

People with chronic iritis associated with systemic diseases might have the option of treating iritis at home (based on their doctor’s recommendations). Your ophthalmologist might provide you with steroid eye drops to have on hand to use when symptoms flare up.

Tips for Preventing & Managing Iritis

There are several things you can do at home to prevent iritis symptoms from developing and/or manage the symptoms until you can get medical attention. For example:

  • Apply a warm compress to the affected eye for 20 minutes three to four times a day
  • Wear glasses with dark lenses with UVA and UVB protection to ease light sensitivity and pain
  • Use eye drops recommended by your doctor as directed and never touch the tip of the bottle to your eyes

Iritis treated at home might clear up on its own, but it’s a good idea to see a doctor. This is especially true if it’s your first time dealing with the condition.

Resources
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Iritis - Symptoms and Causes.” Mayo Clinic, 2018.

Iritis | Cedars-Sinai.” Cedars-Sinai.org, 2019.

Mahabadi, Navid, et al. “Iritis.” PubMed, StatPearls Publishing, 2020.

Russell, Kristen, MS4, Texas Tech University “Iritis.” Moran Eye Center: Moran CORE, 2017.

Eye Injury: Symptoms, Treatment, Causes.” Cleveland Clinic.

Tips for Avoiding Eye Injuries at Home.” Mayo Clinic.

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