What is Uveitis?

Uveitis is an inflammatory eye disease that can cause mild to severe vision loss in one or both eyes. It may be contagious or noninfectious, and it mainly strikes adults ages 20 to 50, but it can affect children. It may only affect the uvea (middle portion of eye wall), but it can also affect the optic nerve, lens, retina and the vitreous.

It can be caused by an injury, a disease of the eye or an underlying inflammatory disease, toxins, cancer or an autoimmune disease. However, the cause is not always known. It can clear up quickly or become a chronic, and the most damaging form can recur repeatedly.

There are four types of uveitis, and each one affects a different area of the eye.

Types of uveitis include:

  • Anterior uveitis (Iritis) – Happens most often and strikes the front portion of the eye
  • Panuveitis uveitis (Diffuse uveitis) – All uveal layers are affected
  • Intermediate uveitis (Cyclitis) – Afflicts the ciliary body where clear fluid (aqueous humor) is produced
  • Posterior uveitis (Retinitis and choroiditis) – Occurs in the back of the eye

What are the Symptoms of Uveitis?

The symptoms of uveitis may include:

  • Painful eye(s)
  • Redness
  • Sensitivity to light
  • Blurry vision
  • Dark floaters
  • Vision loss

Uveitis Causes

It is not always clear what causes uveitis because there are a number of things which could be responsible for the condition.

Sometimes, uveitis is caused by the body’s immune system, and could, therefore, be linked to autoimmune disorders. It is also associated with inflammatory diseases, such as lupus, inflammatory bowel disease (IBD) and rheumatoid arthritis.

Occasionally, infections such as the shingles virus, herpes simplex virus and Lyme disease, and parasites like toxoplasmosis are to blame for the condition. These infections could occur directly in the eye or in other areas of the body.

If the eye becomes bruised as a result of some kind of trauma, this can sometimes lead to uveitis. In other instances, toxins or bacteria could enter the eye and cause the inflammation.

Smoking cigarettes, cigars or pipes is also known to increase the risk of uveitis. It is thought that this is because tobacco smoke causes inflammation of blood vessels which could contribute not only to the inflammation of the uvea, but also to the disruption of the immune system.

How is Uveitis Treated?

If an underlying condition is the cause, it will require treatment. No matter the reason for uveitis, the main objective is inflammation reduction.

Treatment may include:

  • Anti-inflammatory medication (eye drops, IV, injection, surgical implant or pills)
  • Antiviral or antibiotic medication
  • Cytotoxic or immunosuppressive medication
  • Pain medication
  • Surgery (vitrectomy)

When left untreated, uveitis can result in permanent vision loss and blindness. The sooner treatment begins, the less likely that complications will occur.

Uveitis Prevention

Quitting smoking can help to reduce the risk of uveitis, and it may also reduce the risk of the following eye problems.

At risk eye problems include:

  • Cataracts
  • Macular degeneration
  • Diabetic retinopathy
  • Dry eyes

To reduce the risk of developing uveitis as a result of eye injury, take care to protect the eye from trauma and foreign bodies. Individuals who work in environments which could cause fragments of foreign materials to enter the eye, for example in laboratories, manufacturing plants and factories, should wear protective goggles or other appropriate safety equipment to protect the eyes.

Similarly, those who ride motorcycles should wear goggles or a helmet with a visor to prevent grit and other particles from getting in the eye which could be kicked up by other vehicles.

Last Reviewed:
October 11, 2016
Last Updated:
September 10, 2017
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