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.
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.
If an underlying condition is the cause, it will require treatment. No matter the reason for uveitis, the main objective is inflammation reduction.
When left untreated, uveitis can result in permanent vision loss and blindness. The sooner treatment begins, the less likely that complications will occur.
Quitting smoking can help to reduce the risk of uveitis, and it may also reduce the risk of the following eye problems.
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.