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Uveitis - inflammation of the eye

Uveitis is inflammation of the eye's middle layer called the uveal tract or uvea, which becomes swollen.

Uveitis is not that common, but it causes around 1 in 10 cases of visual impairment.

The uvea includes:

  • The coloured part of the eye (iris)
  • The ring of muscle behind the iris (ciliary body)
  • The tissue layer that supports the retina at the back of the eye (choroid)

Symptoms of uveitis

Symptoms may affect one or both eyes and include:

  • Red eyes
  • Eye pain, discomfort and aching
  • Blurred vision, cloudy vision
  • Light sensitivity
  • Pupils not reacting to light normally
  • Floaters in the eye
  • Peripheral vision loss
  • Headache

These symptoms may begin suddenly or may develop over a number of days.

Diagnosis of uveitis

If you have these symptoms, seek medical advice from your GP or ophthalmologist.

The sooner the condition is diagnosed, the sooner treatment can begin to relieve symptoms and help to prevent longer-term vision problems.

Diagnosis will involve looking at the eye with a slit-lamp - a type of microscope with a light.

Additional tests may be arranged, including scans of the eyes and blood tests.

The diagnosis will cover the type of uveitis:

  • Anterior uveitis – affecting the iris and the ciliary body.
  • Intermediate uveitis – affecting the part of the eye behind the ciliary body and also the clear vitreous jelly in the eye.
  • Posterior uveitis – affecting the back of the eye and retina.
  • Panuveitis - affecting both the front and back of the eye.

What causes uveitis?

Uveitis has several possible causes, including:

  • Immune system problems, conditions causing the body's defences to wrongly attack the uvea
  • Infections
  • Injury
  • Problems after eye surgery
  • Cancer

Sometimes no cause of uveitis can be found.

How is uveitis treated?

The main treatment for uveitis is steroids. These may be tablets, eye drops or injections into the eye.

If infection is thought to have caused the uveitis antibiotics or antifungal medication may be used.

If an autoimmune system condition is believed to have caused the uveitis, immunosuppressants may be recommended.

Rarely, a procedure will be carried out to drain infected jelly from the eye. This is called a vitrectomy.

Painkillers may also be recommended.

Wearing dark glasses can help with light sensitivity.

Holding a warm moist flannel over the infected eye may also help.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 15, 2016

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