Uveitis (pronounced you-vee-EYE-tis) is basically an internal inflammation of the eye. The condition involves the middle layers of the eye, also called the uveal tract or uvea. The uvea includes the iris (colored part of the eye), choroid (a thin membrane containing many blood vessels), and the 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.
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Uveitis may develop rapidly, and it is very important that you see your eye doctor for a complete eye exam 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. Other potential causes include fungus, bacteria, 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 or sarcoidosis. Iritis may develop suddenly and may last weeks, even with treatment. Rare cases are chronic and require close, long- term monitoring.
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. Stress is sometimes suspected since the inflammation is triggered by the body's immune system.
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 see an eye specialist right away.
The eye specialist will perform a careful exam of your eyes. He or she may order lab tests -- including blood work or X-rays -- since the list of possible causes can be long.
Uveitis may have an underlying cause elsewhere in your body, and the eye specialist may want to talk with your regular health care provider or another specialist to evaluate your overall health.
How Is Uveitis Treated?
Because uveitis is serious, treatment needs to begin right away. For uveitis not caused by an infection, your eye specialist may prescribe eye drops containing steroids to reduce swelling and drugs 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 by an eye specialist is critical.