What is Uveitis?
Uveitis is an eye inflammation that affects the uvea, the middle layer of the eyeball. The uvea contains many blood vessels that nourish the eye.
Uveitis symptoms typically come on suddenly and worsen quickly. They include severe eye pain, redness, and blurred vision in one or both eyes.
Seeing an eye specialist at the earliest signs of uveitis is essential. Early diagnosis and treatment are necessary to prevent complications and irreversible vision loss.
Symptoms of uveitis usually develop suddenly, but they can occur gradually. Uveitis symptoms can affect one or both eyes and may include:
- Eye redness
- Eye pain
- Light sensitivity
- Blurry vision
- Dark, floating spots in your field of vision (floaters)
- Reduced vision
In some cases, there are no symptoms, and signs of uveitis are detected during a routine eye exam.
When to See a Doctor
Call your doctor as soon as possible if you experience uveitis symptoms. They may refer you to an eye specialist for proper treatment.
Seek immediate medical attention if you have severe eye pain and vision problems.
Anatomy of the Uvea
- Iris. The colored ring around the pupil
- Ciliary body. Muscle tissue behind the iris
- Choroid. A major layer of blood vessels between the sclera and retina
Types of Uveitis
The type of uveitis you have depends on where the eye inflammation occurs. Different types of uveitis include:
This type is also called iritis. It’s the most common form of uveitis. It affects the front area between the cornea, iris, and possibly the ciliary body.
Anterior uveitis symptoms begin suddenly and can last several weeks, known as acute uveitis.
This type affects a narrow section of the ciliary body, the pars plana. It also affects the gel in the center of the eye, known as the vitreous.
Intermediate uveitis symptoms, known as chronic uveitis, can persist for a few weeks to several years. During this time, symptoms can cycle through periods of getting better and worse.
This type affects the back layer of your eye, either the choroid or the retina. Posterior uveitis symptoms develop slowly and can last for many years.
Panuveitis develops when inflammation affects all the layers of the uvea, from the front to the back of your eye. This severe form of uveitis raises the risk of permanent vision damage.
Causes of Uveitis
About 48% to 70% of uveitis cases are idiopathic, which means there is no apparent cause.2
Sometimes, uveitis occurs with underlying conditions, including trauma, infections, and inflammatory diseases.
Uveitis may result from an eye injury, including blunt force trauma or burns from chemical exposure.
Various viral, fungal, parasitic, and bacterial infections may be associated with uveitis. Common examples include:
- HIV and AIDS
- Lyme disease
- Herpes simplex
Inflammatory and autoimmune disorders may also lead to the development of uveitis. These include:
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Multiple sclerosis
- Ankylosing spondylitis
- Idiopathic arthritis
- Inflammatory bowel diseases like Ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
An ophthalmologist will review your medical history and perform a complete eye exam. The exam may include:
- Visual acuity test. To assess the sharpness of your vision with an eye chart
- Slit lamp exam. To check for inflammatory cells in the front of your eye
- Tonometry. To measure intraocular pressure (the pressure inside your eye)
- Dilated eye exam. To examine the back of your eye with a bright light
Depending on what they find, your ophthalmologist may refer you to a uveitis specialist or rheumatologist to diagnose an underlying condition.
Prompt treatment of uveitis is necessary to prevent more tissue damage and reduce inflammation.
If an underlying health condition causes uveitis, treatment may focus on that condition. In some cases, people may require treatment for months to years.
Standard treatment options include:
- Steroid eye drops. To reduce inflammation
- Eye drops widen (dilate) the pupil. To reduce pain and swelling
- Injected or oral steroids. If topical steroids are ineffective
Treatment for an underlying condition may involve medications to fight infection or immunosuppressive medications to treat autoimmune disorders.
Can Uveitis Go Away on Its Own?
The most common type of uveitis (iritis) causes symptoms to appear suddenly and occasionally resolve on their own if mild.
If you suspect you have uveitis, visit an eye doctor.
What are the Complications of Uveitis?
Untreated uveitis can cause severe, potentially irreversible damage to your eye tissue. Common complications include:1
- Retinal swelling (macular edema)
- Retinal scarring
- Optic nerve damage
- Retinal detachment
- Permanent vision loss
Can You Go Blind From Uveitis?
Yes. About 10% of cases of legal blindness in the US are due to uveitis.1
Severe uveitis can lead to permanent vision loss. Diagnosing and treating uveitis as early as possible is essential to prevent blindness and irreversible damage.
Is Uveitis Preventable?
Because most cases of uveitis have no apparent cause, there isn’t much you can do to prevent it.
However, there are steps you can take to improve your eye health in general:
- Don’t smoke. Smoking is a risk factor for many eye diseases
- Manage stress. To reduce inflammation in your body
- Eat healthy foods. To strengthen your immune system
- Get regular eye exams. To monitor any changes to your vision and eye health
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. Regular eye exams are necessary if you have conditions that place you at risk for uveitis.
Speak with your eye health provider if you have red eyes, inflammation, or eye pain.
Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, which is the eye's middle layer. You should call your doctor at the first sign of uveitis symptoms, which include eye pain, redness, and blurry vision.
Without treatment, uveitis can lead to permanent damage and blindness. Treatment with steroid medicine typically relieves symptoms and reduces the risk of complications.
Most of the time, uveitis develops without a clear cause. When a cause is identified, it may include an injury, infection, or autoimmune disease.
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