What Is Uveitis?

Medically Reviewed by Whitney Seltman, OD on November 11, 2022
3 min read

Uveitis is a broad term for many problems with your eye. What they have in common is eye inflammation and swelling that can destroy eye tissues. That destruction can lead to poor vision or blindness.

The word “uveitis” is used because the swelling most often affects the part of your eye called the uvea.

Your eye is made of layers. The uvea is the middle layer.  It’s between the white part of your eye -- called the sclera -- and the inner layers of your eye.

Your uvea contains three important structures:

The iris. That’s the colored circle at the front of your eye.

The ciliary body. Its job is to help your lens focus and make the fluid that nourishes the inside of your eye.

The choroid. This is a group of blood vessels that give your retina the nutrients it needs.

Yes. Which type you have depends on where the swelling is.

  • Anterior uveitis is the most common. It affects the front of your eye.
  • Intermediate uveitis affects your ciliary body.
  • Posterior uveitis affects the back of your eye.
  • If your entire uvea is inflamed, you have panuveitis.

Many things, and they’re all tied to inflammation.

For example, a toxic substance could get into your eye and cause inflammation. So could a bruise to your eye.

Uveitis may also be caused by an autoimmune disease, meaning your body is attacking itself. That attack causes inflammation, and so do infections and tumors in your eye or other parts of your body.

Folks with certain gene combinations and those who smoke seem to be at greater risk.

Some diseases also increase the chances, including:

  • AIDS
  • Ankylosing spondylitis
  • Behcet’s disease
  • CMV retinitis
  • Herpes zoster infection
  • Histoplasmosis
  • Kawasaki disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Psoriasis and psoriatic arthritis
  • Reactive arthritis
  • Rheumatoid arthritis
  • Sarcoidosis
  • Syphilis
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Tuberculosis
  • Ulcerative colitis
  • Vogt-Koyanagi-Harada disease

They can affect one or both eyes, and they may come on quickly. In some cases, they happen more gradually.

The warning signs include:

  • Eye redness
  • Pain
  • Blurry or lessened vision and sensitivity to light
  • Floaters, those tiny dots or specks in your vision

If you have any of these, it’s important to see your eye doctor. Prompt diagnosis and treatment can help save your vision.

Your eye doctor will want to know about your medical history and overall health. This is because uveitis can be a result of other diseases. They may order blood tests, skin tests, or X-rays. They’ll also give you a thorough eye exam.

The first step may be eye drops that have medicine -- usually a corticosteroid -- to fight inflammation. You might get dilating eye drops to prevent scarring and relax your eye muscles to cut eye twitches. If the drops don’t work, your doctor may add a pill or injection.

If an infection causes your uveitis, you’ll get other drugs, too. These infection fighters include antibiotics and antivirals.

If you don’t get better with those treatments, or if your uveitis is severe, your doctor may prescribe stronger drugs. These drugs may include immunosuppressives. Those dampen your immune system. You’d use them with corticosteroids.

If you have anterior uveitis, your doctor will probably prescribe eye drops at first. If you have intermediate, posterior, or panuveitis, they may give you injections, oral medications, or an immunosuppressive drug. They could also suggest an implantable device that slowly releases medication.

In some cases, your doctor may recommend a procedure to remove some of the gel-like substance in your eye. You may hear them call it vitreous.

Treatment is important and can prevent serious complications. Make sure you report any new symptom to your doctor, and go to your follow-up visits as your doctor says.