Uveitis, also known as iritis, means you have inflammation — heat, redness, pain, and swelling — in one or both of your eyes. It can cause vision loss, but it can be treated. See your eye doctor as soon as you notice a problem. If you get treatment early, you can ease your symptoms and protect your vision.
Uveitis gets its name from the uvea, the middle layer of your eye. It includes the iris (the colored part). The inflammation can also affect other parts of your eye, like the lens or retina.
Adults between 20 and 60 years old are most likely to get it. How it affects you depends a lot on the cause and how quickly you get treated. You might only have minor problems with your sight. Or it could cause serious vision loss. You might have it for a short time or for many years. It could return again and again. Left alone, it can turn into serious eyesight troubles, like glaucoma or cataracts.
What Causes It?
There are two types:
Infectious uveitis can result from a bacteria or virus in your eye.
Noninfectious uveitis can result from an eye injury or a disease somewhere else in your body. The uvea has a lot of blood vessels, so if your immune system is fighting off a problem in one area, the cells and chemicals it makes can travel through your bloodstream and enter your eye. That causes inflammation. If you have one of these conditions, you’re more likely to get uveitis:
- Behcet’s syndrome
- Psoriatic arthritis
- Rheumatoid arthritis
- Ulcerative colitis
- Crohn’s disease
In some cases, doctors don’t know what causes noninfectious uveitis.
What Are the Symptoms?
It can affect one or both eyes. Symptoms may come on quickly. If you notice any of these, see an eye doctor right away:
- Change in vision
- Dark floating spots (floaters)
- Eye pain
- Eye redness
- Light sensitivity
How Is It Diagnosed?
You’ll need to see an eye doctor. They’ll give you an eye exam and ask you questions about your symptoms, like:
- Have you had any pain? Where?
- How is your vision? Have you noticed any changes?
- Is it hard for you to look at light or be in a bright place?
- Does anything make your symptoms better or worse?
- Have you injured your eye or your face recently?
- Do you have any other medical conditions?
During the eye exam, the doctor will:
- Test your vision to see if your eyesight has changed
- Measure the pressure in your eye
- Widen, or dilate, your pupils so they can look at the back of your eye
- Use a microscope and a thin beam of light to check different parts of your eye. This is called a slit lamp exam. They may dilate your eyes or use a special dye to make certain parts easier to see.
They may also do blood tests, X-rays, or other lab tests to check for medical conditions that might be linked to uveitis.
What Should I Ask My Doctor?
- What’s causing my uveitis?
- Which part of my eye does it affect?
- Is my eye damaged?
- Do I need more tests?
- Do I need to see other doctors?
- What are my treatment options?
- How will the treatment make me feel?
- Will it cure my uveitis?
- What if it comes back?
- What can I do to protect my sight?
How Is It Treated?
It’s important to treat uveitis right away so it doesn’t permanently scar your eye or lead to other serious problems, like glaucoma or cataracts.
Your doctor may give you steroid eye drops to ease the swelling, redness, and pain. Steroid shots or pills are other options. In addition the doctor may ask you to take eye drops like atropine which dilate your pupil and prevent painful spasm of your eye. This can make your vision blurry and sensitive to light.
Doctors can treat some types of the condition with a small capsule that slowly releases steroids inside your eye. This is usually a treatment for long-lasting cases. Many of these cases are in just one eye. But with this treatment, you can be more likely to get cataracts or glaucoma. The surgery to put the capsule in your eye won’t require a hospital stay. If your doctor recommends this option, ask them what you can expect.
If you take oral steroids for a long time, you may have side effects, like cataracts, stomach ulcers, bone thinning (your doctor will call this osteoporosis), diabetes, and weight gain. Ask them how the treatment may affect you.
Other options include drugs that turn down your immune system. Your doctor will refer to them as immunosuppressants. Or you could get drugs to boost your body’s own response to inflammation. The doctor might call them biologics. They don’t get prescribed often, but your doctor may choose them if steroids haven’t helped you. If you take them, you’ll get regular blood tests and doctor’s appointments to make sure they aren’t causing any side effects.
What Can I Do?
Treatment will help ease any eye pain and swelling you may have, but keep your doctor informed about any discomfort or changes in your vision.
If your uveitis was caused by another medical condition, you’ll need to make sure you get the right treatment for it as well.
What Should I Expect?
It all depends on what the root cause is and how quickly you get treatment. You may have one bout of uveitis, or it may come back again and again. Whatever the case, medicines can help ease pain, restore vision, and stop damage to your eye.
- All About Vision: “Uveitis, Iritis and Eye Inflammation."
- EyeSmart: “Uveitis Causes," “Uveitis Diagnosis," “Uveitis Symptoms," “Uveitis Treatment," “What is Uveitis?"
- Medscape Multispecialty: “A Systematic Review of Biologics for the Treatment of Noninfectious Uveitis."
- Medscape: “Iritis and Uveitis."
- National Eye Institute: “Facts About Uveitis."