Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, which 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 is most common in people ages 20 to 50. It can be serious, leading to permanent vision loss. Early diagnosis and treatment are important to prevent the complications of uveitis.
The signs, symptoms and characteristics of uveitis include:
- Eye redness
- Eye pain
- Light sensitivity
- Blurred vision
- Dark, floating spots in your field of vision (floaters)
- Decreased vision
- Sudden appearance and rapid worsening of symptoms
- Effects noticeable in one or both eyes
- Variable site of inflammation — sometimes only the front of your eye (anterior uveitis, iritis) or the back of your eye (posterior uveitis), and sometimes all three layers of the uvea (panuveitis)
The cause of uveitis often can’t be determined. However, in some people, uveitis is associated with:
- 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 have an indirect effect on the eye
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 disease.
If uveitis is caused by an underlying condition, treatment will focus on treating that specific condition. The goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation in your eye.
Treatment of uveitis may include:
- Anti-inflammatory medication. Your doctor may prescribe anti-inflammatory medication, such as a corticosteroid, to treat your uveitis. This medication may be given as eyedrops. Your doctor also could administer a corticosteroid by pill or by injection into the eye.
- Antibiotic or antiviral medication. 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.
- Immunosuppressive or cytotoxic medication. Immunosuppressive or cytotoxic agents may become necessary if your uveitis responds poorly to corticosteroids or becomes severe enough to threaten your vision.
- Surgery. Vitrectomy — surgery to remove the jelly-like material in your eye (vitreous) — may sometimes be necessary for diagnosis and treatment of uveitis.
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.
Uveitis can recur. Make an appointment with your doctor if any of your symptoms reappear after successful treatment.
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