What Is It?
Uveitis is a general term referring to an inflammation of a portion or all of the part of the eye called the uvea. The uvea, also called the uveal tract, is a continuous layer of fibrous tissue that surrounds the eye. It is made up of three structures:
- The iris — The donut-shaped part that gives the eye its color, visible when you look someone in the eye.
- The choroid — A membrane full of tiny blood vessels that lines the eye.
- The ciliary body — A thick ring of tissue that helps control the shape of the lens. It is attached to the iris and to the front portion of the choroid.
Various terms are used for the condition, depending on the part of the uvea affected. They include:
- Anterior uveitis (iritis) — Affects the front portion of the uvea, the iris
- Iridocyclitis — Affects the iris and the ciliary body
- Intermediate uveitis (cyclitis) — Affects the middle portion, the ciliary body
- Posterior uveitis (choroiditis) — Affects the back part of the uvea, the choroid
- Diffuse uveitis — Inflammation of all portions of the uvea
The most common types of uveitis are anterior uveitis and iridocyclitis. Posterior uveitis is rare. Although the exact mechanism that causes the uvea to become inflamed is unknown, many cases are related to an autoimmune disorder (such as ankylosing spondylitis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, or sarcoidosis ) or an infection, such as toxoplasmosis, herpes, syphilis, or cytomegalovirus (especially among patients with AIDS). In up to half of cases, the cause is not known.
Symptoms of uveitis can vary depending on the location of the inflammation. Severe symptoms generally are associated with anterior uveitis, and can include:
- Eye pain
- Eye redness
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurred or decreased vision
Intermediate and posterior uveitis can have more subtle symptoms, including small specks or clouds that move in your field of vision, called floaters, and decreased vision.
If your physician suspects uveitis, you are likely to be referred to an ophthalmologist (eye specialist). A thorough eye exam is given, including:
- Tests of visual acuity, to determine if vision has decreased. This can be as simple as reading an eye chart.
- A funduscopic exam, in which the pupil is dilated so that the ophthalmologist can peer into the eye and see structures at the back of the eye.
- Measures of intraocular pressure, to make sure that pressure inside the eye has not reached levels that might be dangerous. This painless test involves an instrument called a tonometer that either blows a puff of air or lightly presses on the surface of the eye and measures how the surface of the eye responds.
- A slit-lamp exam, in which a narrow beam of light is shone into the eye so that a magnifying lens can closely examine the highlighted portion of the eye. A fluorescein dye is used to highlight anterior portions of the eye, and dilating agents are used to see structures at the back of the eye.
In addition, your physician probably will conduct a thorough medical history and physical exam. Depending on the results of this medical evaluation, he or she may order blood tests and X-rays (such as a chest X-ray to look for evidence of sarcoidosis). Because uveitis often is associated with a viral infection or an autoimmune disease, any underlying disease needs to be discovered and treated as well.
With treatment, most people with uveitis will improve within days or weeks. However, it may last several months. Chronic forms of the disease can be very difficult to cure, and may recur. If you have been treated successfully for uveitis, you should expect to have follow-up visits to your doctor every one to six months to make sure that the disease remains stable.
Other than avoiding certain infections, including syphilis or HIV, there is no way to prevent uveitis.
Treatment of uveitis focuses on reducing inflammation and relieving pain. If an infection is present, antibiotic medication will be prescribed. For noninfectious uveitis, treatment will usually include prescription eye drops or ointments containing corticosteroids to reduce inflammation. If uveitis affects the iris, eye drops that dilate the pupil also may be prescribed so that the iris won’t move and cause pain. Your doctor may recommend sunglasses because bright light may cause discomfort. For more severe cases, your ophthalmologist may recommend injections of corticosteroids into the eye, oral forms of corticosteroids or additional immunosuppressive medications.
Any complications of uveitis, such as glaucoma or cataracts, also will need to be treated. For many patients, a multidisciplinary team of physicians will be involved, including a general medical physician, an ophthalmologist, and sometimes other specialists (for example, infectious disease or arthritis experts).
When To Call A Professional
See your health-care provider if you experience blurred vision, pain in one or both eyes, sensitivity to light or eye redness.
The prognosis varies, depending on the type of uveitis, its severity and duration, whether it responds promptly to treatment and whether there is an associated illness. When diagnosed and treated promptly, the prognosis is generally good, and patients can expect to recover eventually. Left untreated, the complications of uveitis can be serious, and may include glaucoma, cataracts or permanent loss of vision.
Diseases and Conditions Center
All ArmMed Media material is provided for information only and is neither advice nor a substitute for proper medical care. Consult a qualified healthcare professional who understands your particular history for individual concerns.