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Uveitis

What is uveitis?

Uveitis (pronounced you-vee-EYE-tis) is inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of your eye.  The eye is shaped much like a tennis ball, with three different layers of tissue surrounding a central gel-filled cavity.

The innermost layer is the retina, which senses light and helps to send images to your brain.  The middle layer between the sclera and retina is called the uvea.  The outermost layer is the sclera, the strong white wall of the eye.

What is the importance of the uvea?

The uvea contains many blood vessels, the veins and arteries that carry blood flow to the eye.  Since it nourishes many important parts of the eye (such as the retina), inflammation of the uvea can damage your sight.

What are the symptoms of uveitis?

Symptoms of uveitis include:

  • Light sensitivity;
  • Blurring of vision;
  • Pain;
  • Redness of the eye.

Uveitis may come on suddenly with redness and pain, or sometimes with a painless blurring of your vision.

A case of simple “red eye” may in fact be a serious problem of uveitis. If your eye becomes red or painful, and doesn’t clear up quickly, you should be examined and treated by an ophthalmologist.

What causes uveitis?

Uveitis has many different causes:

  • A virus, such as shingles, mumps or herpes;
  • A fungus, such as histoplasmosis;
  • A parasite, such as toxoplasmosis;
  • Related disease in other parts of the body, such as arthritis;
  • A result of injury to the eye.  Inflammation in one eye can result from a severe injury to the opposite eye (sympathetic uveitis);
  • Bacteria, such as syphilis.

In most cases the cause of uveitis remains unknown.

How is uveitis diagnosed?

A careful eye examination by an ophthalmologist is extremely important when symptoms occur.  Inflammation inside the eye can permanently affect sight or even lead to blindness, if it is not treated.

Your ophthalmologist will examine the inside of your eye.  He or she may order blood tests, skin tests or x-rays to help make the diagnosis.

Since uveitis can be associated with disease in the rest of the body, your ophthalmologist will want to know about your overall health.  He or she may want to consult with your primary care physician or other medical specialists.

Are there different kinds of uveitis?

There are different types of uveitis, depending on which part of the eye is affected:

  • When the uvea is inflamed near the front of the eye in the iris, it is called iritis. Iritis has a sudden onset and may last six to eight weeks;
  • If the uvea is inflamed in the middle of the eye, it is called cyclitis. Cyclitis affects the muscle that focuses the lens.  Cyclitis can also come on suddenly and last for several months;
  • An inflammation in the back of the eye is called choroiditis. Choroiditis is slower to begin and may last longer.

How is uveitis treated?

Uveitis is a serious eye condition that may scar the eye.  You need to have it treated as soon as possible.

Eye drops, especially steroids and pupil dilators, can reduce inflammation and pain.  For more severe inflammation, oral medication or injections may be necessary.

Uveitis can have these complications:

  • Glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye);
  • Cataract (clouding of the eye’s natural lens);
  • Neovascularization (growth of new, abnormal blood vessels);

These complications also may need treatment with eye drops, conventional surgery or laser surgery.

If you have a “red eye” that does not clear up, see your doctor.

Courtesy of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.  Reprinted with permission of the American Academy of Ophthalmology.  Copyright protected.  All rights reserved.  Users of this website may reproduce one (1) copy of this for their own personal, noncommercial use.  All Internet, web or electronic posting or transmission is not permitted.