Uveitis: Causes, Symptoms & Treatments

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What is Uveitis (Eye Swelling)?

Uveitis is a type of eye inflammation. It affects the center layer of tissue in the eyewall, known as the uvea.1

The warning signs of uveitis typically come on suddenly and worsen quickly. Uveitis can affect one or both eyes. People of all ages can develop uveitis, even children.

Uveitis can be severe, leading to permanent vision loss. Early diagnosis and treatment are essential to prevent complications and save vision.

Types of Uveitis

The type of uveitis you develop depends on which area or areas of the eye are inflamed.1

Anterior Uveitis

Anterior uveitis affects the inside or front of your eye. This is the area between the cornea and the iris. It also affects the ciliary body. 

This type of uveitis is also called iritis. It is the most common form of uveitis.

Intermediate Uveitis

Intermediate uveitis affects a narrow section of the ciliary body, otherwise known as the pars plana. It also affects the gel in the center of the eye, known as the vitreous.

Posterior Uveitis

Posterior uveitis affects a layer on the inside of the back of your eye, either the choroid or the retina. 

Panuveitis

Panuveitis develops when all the layers of the uvea are inflamed from the front to the back of your eye.

Causes of Uveitis

The specific cause of uveitis is not usually clear. The condition may be considered an autoimmune disease that only affects the eye or eyes.

If a cause is determined, it may be from:1

  • An inflammatory or autoimmune disorder that affects other areas of the body (like sarcoidosis, ankylosing spondylitis, systemic lupus erythematosus, or Crohn's disease)
  • An infection like a cat-scratch disease, syphilis, herpes zoster, toxoplasmosis, or tuberculosis
  • Medication side effects
  • An eye injury or surgery
  • Eye cancer such as lymphoma

Symptoms of Uveitis

The symptoms of uveitis may include:1

  • Eye redness 
  • Eye pain 
  • Light sensitivity 
  • Blurry vision 
  • Dark, floating spots in your field of vision (known as floaters)
  • Decreased vision

Symptoms may develop suddenly and worsen quickly. However, in some cases, they occur gradually. Symptoms may affect one or both eyes.

In some cases, there are no symptoms. Signs of uveitis may be observed on a routine eye exam.

What Does Uveitis Pain Feel Like?

Uveitis eye pain usually feels like a dull ache in or around your eye or eyes. It may worsen when you try to focus your eyesight.2

What are the Complications of Uveitis?

Untreated uveitis can cause complications, including:1

  • Retinal swelling (macular edema)
  • Retina scarring
  • Optic nerve damage
  • Glaucoma
  • Cataracts
  • Retinal detachment
  • Permanent vision loss

Can You Go Blind From Uveitis?

Uveitis can be severe and lead to permanent vision loss. It is essential to diagnose and treat uveitis as early as possible to prevent blindness and irreversible damage.

Uveitis Treatment Options

If an underlying health condition causes uveitis, treatment may focus on that condition.

Uveitis treatment aims to reduce eye inflammation and in other areas of the body, if present. In some cases, treatment may be required for months to years.

Professional Treatments

There are several available professional treatment options.

Medications

Your doctor may initially prescribe eye drops with anti-inflammatory medication, like a corticosteroid. 

However, eye drops are not usually enough to treat inflammation beyond the front of the eye. 

A corticosteroid injection in or surrounding the eye or corticosteroid tablets taken orally may be required.

Or, drops that dilate the pupil may be prescribed by your eye doctor to control spasms in the iris and ciliary body. This can help with eye pain. 

If uveitis results from an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, antiviral medicines, or other medications to control the condition. These prescriptions may come with or without corticosteroids.

You may require immunosuppressive drugs if your uveitis affects both eyes, does not respond well to corticosteroids, or becomes serious enough to threaten your vision. Or, if your uveitis is related to an underlying autoimmune disease, your doctor may prescribe this medication.

Some of these medicines may deliver eye-related side effects like glaucoma and cataracts.

Medicines taken orally or by injection can lead to side effects in other areas of the body outside the eyes. You may need to meet your eye doctor for follow-up examinations and blood tests every one to three months.

Surgery and Other Treatments

In rare cases, surgery is used to remove some of the vitreous in your eye to diagnose or manage uveitis. 

For people with posterior uveitis that is challenging to treat, a medication-releasing implant may be an option. This device slowly adds corticosteroid to the eye for two to three years.

Cataracts develop in people who have not yet had cataract surgery. Patients may also require treatment for elevated eye pressure to stop the development of glaucoma. 

The speed of recovery depends partly on the type of uveitis you have and the severity of the symptoms.

Uveitis that affects the back of your eye typically heals more slowly than uveitis in the front of the eye. Severe inflammation takes significantly longer to heal than mild inflammation.

How to Treat Uveitis at Home 

Usually, uveitis is best treated with professional help. 

However, the following home measures may help relieve symptoms:

  • Wearing dark glasses if your eye is sensitive to light
  • Setting a warm compress over your eye to soothe it
  • Taking painkillers, like ibuprofen, to reduce pain

Can Uveitis Go Away on Its Own?

The most common type of uveitis, anterior uveitis, causes symptoms to appear suddenly and occasionally resolve on their own if they are mild. 

If you suspect you have uveitis, visit an eye doctor.

What is the Outlook for Uveitis?

Most people who receive prompt treatment for uveitis have few, if any, long-term vision problems. Treatments can prevent disease progression and restore vision loss.

Severe forms of uveitis may require long-term treatment. Serious disease is more likely to lead to vision loss or even blindness. If you have conditions that place you at risk for uveitis, regular eye exams are necessary.

Speak with your eye health provider any time you have red eyes, inflammation, or eye pain.

How to Prevent & Manage Uveitis

Currently, there are no truly effective methods to stop uveitis from occurring. There is no evidence from medical research for any uveitis prevention treatment.

There are measures you can take to lessen your risk of developing or worsening the condition:

Do Not Smoke

As with any eye condition, the fewer harmful chemicals in your body and eyes, the better. The toxins in cigarette smoke will affect your overall health and how your body responds to disease. 

If you develop uveitis, it is possible that smoking may delay your recovery. 

Try To Reduce Stress

Stress is a trigger for uveitis and other eye conditions in some people. Getting enough rest ensures that your body and eyes recover from daily exertion. 

Consider scheduling some time daily to relax your mind and body, even if it is just for five minutes.

You can meditate, go for a short walk, or do something you enjoy that will take your mind off any stress. You should feel better overall, and it may help you manage your uveitis. 

Eat a Healthy Diet

Following a healthy diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables while reducing the consumption of trans-fatty acids will also benefit your eye health. 

Many fruits and vegetables have antioxidants that are good for eye health (e.g., peppers, blueberries, spinach, and cherries).

Antioxidants may help improve the immune system and play a role in uveitis prevention.

Resources
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Uveitis Symptoms and Causes, Mayo Clinic, June 2013

Uveitis, National Health Service (NHS), January 2020

Uveitis Diagnosis and Treatment, Mayo Clinic, June 2013

Harthan, Jennifer S et al. “Diagnosis and treatment of anterior uveitis: optometric management.” Clinical optometry vol. 8 23-35. 31 Mar. 2016, doi:10.2147/OPTO.S72079

Duplechain A, Conrady CD, Patel BC, et al. Uveitis. [Updated 2021 Aug 11]. In: StatPearls [Internet]. Treasure Island (FL): StatPearls Publishing; 2021 Jan

Barisani-Asenbauer, T., Maca, S.M., Mejdoubi, L. et al. Uveitis- a rare disease often associated with systemic diseases and infections- a systematic review of 2619 patients. Orphanet J Rare Dis 7, 57 (2012). 

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