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Uveitis - inflammation of the eye

Uveitis involves all inflammatory processes of the middle layers of the eye, also called the uveal tract or uvea. The uvea includes the iris (the coloured part of the eye), choroid (a thin membrane containing many blood vessels) and ciliary body (the part of the eye that joins these together).

The uvea is very important because its many veins and arteries transport blood to the parts of the eye that are critical for vision.

What are the symptoms of uveitis?

Symptoms of uveitis may include:

  • Eye redness and irritation
  • Blurred vision
  • Eye pain
  • Increased sensitivity to light
  • Floating spots before the eyes

Uveitis may develop rapidly, and it is very important that you see your ophthalmologist for a complete eye examination if you develop these symptoms, especially if a painful, red eye does not clear up quickly.

Left untreated, uveitis may permanently damage your vision.

What causes uveitis?

Uveitis has many potential causes, including infection with a virus, fungus, bacteria or parasite, inflammatory disease affecting other parts of the body, or injury to the eye.

There are four types of uveitis:

  • Iritis is the most common form of uveitis. It affects the iris and is often associated with autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis. Iritis may develop suddenly and may last up to eight weeks, even with treatment.
  • Cyclitis is an inflammation of the middle portion of the eye and may affect the muscle that focuses the lens. This also may develop suddenly and last several months.
  • Retinitis affects the back of the eye. It may be rapidly progressive, making it difficult to treat. Retinitis may be caused by viruses such as shingles or herpes and bacterial infections such as syphilis or toxoplasmosis.
  • Choroiditis is an inflammation of the layer beneath the retina. It may also be caused by an infection, such as tuberculosis.

Retinitis and choroiditis can each be caused by an autoimmune disease, such as rheumatoid arthritis or lupus. In a large number of cases the cause of uveitis is not known, but it is often related to stress.

How is uveitis diagnosed?

Uveitis can permanently damage your eyesight and even cause blindness. Therefore, if you have any symptoms of uveitis, is very important for you to seek medical advice right away.

If your doctor suspects that you have uveitis, he or she may refer you to an eye specialist for further examination. He or she may order laboratory tests including blood tests or X-rays.

Uveitis may have an underlying cause elsewhere in your body, so the ophthalmologist may want to talk with your GP or a specialist to evaluate your overall medical health.

How is uveitis treated?

Because uveitis is serious, treatment needs to begin right away. For uveitis not caused by an infection, your ophthalmologist may prescribe eye drops containing steroids to reduce swelling and medication to relieve pain. Antibiotics are used in patients with infectious uveitis. Dark glasses will help with light sensitivity.

Complications of uveitis may include glaucoma, cataracts, abnormal growth of blood vessels in the eyes that interfere with vision, fluid within the retina and vision loss. Early diagnosis and treatment is critical.

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WebMD Medical Reference

Medically Reviewed by Dr Rob Hicks on August 29, 2012

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