Doctors use the term "uveitis" to refer to inflammation of the uvea. The uvea is the vascular layer of the eye sandwiched between the retina and the white of the eye (sclera). The uvea extends toward the front of the eye and consists of the iris, choroid layer and ciliary body. The most common type of uveitis is an inflammation of the iris called iritis (anterior uveitis).
Uveitis can be quite serious and may lead to permanent vision loss. Early diagnosis and treatment are important.
In many cases, the cause of uveitis can't be determined even after your doctor performs a thorough examination. However, in some people, uveitis is associated with :
When to seek medical advice:
- Autoimmune disorders, such as rheumatoid arthritis or ankylosing spondylitis
- Inflammatory disorders, such as Crohn's disease or ulcerative colitis
- Infections such as syphilis, toxoplasmosis or tuberculosis
- Eye injury
- Certain cancers, such as lymphoma, that masquerade as uveitis
Contact your doctor if you think you may have symptoms of uveitis. Your doctor may refer you to an eye specialist (ophthalmologist). If you're experiencing eye pain and vision problems, along with other signs and symptoms, seek prompt medical attention.
Uveitis is most common in people ages 20 to 50. Signs and symptoms of uveitis include:
- Eye redness
- Eye pain
- Light sensitivity
- Blurred vision
- Dark, floating spots in your field of vision (floaters)
- Decreased vision
The signs and symptoms of uveitis may appear suddenly and may worsen very quickly. One or both eyes may be affected.
Inflammation associated with uveitis may affect only the front of your eye (anterior uveitis or iritis) or the back of your eye (posterior uveitis). Uveitis can also affect all three layers of the uvea (panuveitis).
When you visit an eye specialist (ophthalmologist), expect a complete eye exam and be prepared to answer questions related to your signs, symptoms and health history.
If the ophthalmologist suspects an underlying condition to be the cause of your uveitis, he or she may refer you to another doctor for a general medical examination and special laboratory tests. Often, it's difficult to find a specific cause for uveitis. However, your doctor will make every effort to determine whether your uveitis has an infectious cause or results from some other syndrome that mimics uveitis.
Left untreated, uveitis can cause the following complications:
- Abnormally high pressure inside the eye (glaucoma)
- Damage to the optic nerve
- Clouding of the lens (cataract) or cornea
- Scar tissue inside the eye
- Retinal problems, such as fluid within the retina or retinal detachment
- Vision loss
Treatment of uveitis depends in large part on what's causing the condition. Often, your doctor prescribes anti-inflammatory medications, such as corticosteroids. These may be given as eye drops. Your doctor also could administer the corticosteroids by pill or by injection into the eye. If uveitis is caused by an infection, antibiotics, antiviral medications or some other medicine may be given with or without corticosteroids to bring the infection under control. If uveitis is caused by an underlying condition, treatment will focus on treating that specific condition.
The part of your eye affected by uveitis — either the front (anterior) or back (posterior) of the uvea — may determine the duration of the condition. With proper treatment, anterior uveitis can clear up in a matter of days to weeks. Posterior uveitis, on the other hand, may last several months or years and could permanently alter your vision.
If your uveitis responds poorly to corticosteroids or becomes severe enough to threaten your vision, you may need to try a different kind of medication, such as an immunosuppressive or cytotoxic agent. Vitrectomy — surgery to remove the jelly-like material in your eye (vitreous) — may sometimes be necessary for diagnosis and treatment of uveitis.
Uveitis can recur. Make an appointment with your doctor if any of your symptoms reappear after successful treatment.