The eye condition called uveitis is closely associated with immunity, as it involves inflammation inside your eye. Uveitis may develop as a result of your immune system fighting an eye infection, or attacking healthy eye tissue, inside the eye’s uveal layer. Also called the uvea, this is the area found between the retina and the sclera, the eye’s white part.
Uveitis can be very serious, as the uveal layer includes areas essential to our ability to see. In severe cases or if left untreated, it may result in eye damage or vision loss. Depending on the type of uveitis you have, you need to be aware of the specific signs and risk factors. You should seek immediate medical attention for evaluation and treatment, which may depend on the condition’s specific cause. But with early intervention, you have a good chance of maintaining your vision.
What Is Uveitis and The Specific Types?
There are four different subtypes of uveitis, which are diagnosed according to the location of the inflammation.
- Anterior uveitis – The most common type, anterior uveitis involves swelling and inflammation in the front portion of the eye. Typically, this affects the iris, the colored part of our eye surrounding the pupil that is responsible for regulating the amount of light entering the eye. When uveitis affects the iris, it is called iritis.
- Intermediate uveitis – This type targets the eye’s peripheral retina, the thin, photosensitive tissue layer responsible for night vision and peripheral, or side vision. It also affects the vitreous gel – the clear, jelly-like gel that maintains the eye’s shape and provides a clear space for light to pass through to reach the retina.
- Posterior uveitis – This type of uveitis affects the eye’s back portion. It can impact the choroid, a pigmented vascular tissue that connects the sclera to the retina. The choroid is also responsible for the regulation of ocular circulation.
- Panuveitis – With this condition, inflammation occurs in all parts of the uvea. It may even impact the entire eye, including such parts as the retina, optic nerve, vitreous, and lens.
What Are the Causes of Uveitis?
Uveitis, like other forms of inflammation, develops as a response to disease, infection, injury, or toxins. In most cases, there is no known cause. However, uveitis may be associated with previous eye damage or injuries. Research suggests that uveitis may also be an indication of underlying autoimmune illnesses, such as rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, sarcoidosis, and AIDS. There may be a link between uveitis and bacterial, viral, or parasitic infections, as well.
What Are The Signs and Symptoms of Uveitis?
Uveitis cases can vary among patients, and symptoms may depend on the inflammation site. They can develop in one eye or both, and you may experience them in stages or only once. As it can permanently impact vision, you must seek medical care as soon as symptoms develop. The most common ones include:
- Redness in the eye
- Floaters, floating dark spots
- Light sensitivity
- Decreased vision
How is Uveitis Diagnosed?
Your ophthalmologist will diagnose uveitis with a complete eye exam, including your full medical history. With this exam, you can expect:
- An assessment of visual acuity (i.e. the ability to distinguish shapes and details of objects at a given distance) to evaluate whether or not your vision has worsened.
- Ophthalmoscopy, including dilating, or widening of the pupils, provides your doctor with an unobstructed view to check the back of the eye.
- Slit-lamp examination, which identifies inflammation by using an illuminating microscope.
- An eye pressure exam, also called tonometry, is a test to check that a steady level of fluid is draining into your eye. This ensures stable pressure within the eye, or intraocular pressure. If the drainage stops working, fluid builds up and pressure rises, damaging the optic nerve.
- Advanced imaging techniques, such as optical coherence tomography and fluorescein angiography, may be used.
How is Uveitis Treated?
With uveitis, treatment will depend on the condition’s source. Steroid eye drops are typically prescribed, as they help to curtail redness, inflammation, discomfort, and pain. Depending on how advanced the case is, your doctor may prescribe other treatments, such as steroid tablets, injections, immunosuppressive medications, or surgery.
During an exam, your primary care doctor will determine if blood testing, X-rays, and an overall health evaluation are needed. You may be prescribed anti-inflammatory medications, administered as eye drops or orally, especially in more severe cases. You may also require corticosteroid eye drops or injections, provided in the office. If your condition is chronic, and symptoms return even with medications, you may be immediately referred for evaluation by a specialist with specific chronic uveitis experience.
Uveitis can lead to permanent vision loss if left untreated. But with early intervention, you have a better chance of maintaining your vision. You need to be aware of uveitis signs or risk factors and seek immediate medical attention for evaluation and treatment.