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What is uveitis?

The eye is shaped much like a tennis ball, with three different layers of tissue surrounding the central gel-filled cavity. The innermost layer is the retina, which senses light and helps to send images to your brain. The middle layer between the sclera and retina is called the uvea. The outermost layer is the sclera, the strong white wall of the eye. Uveitis (pronounced you-vee-EYE-tis) is inflammation of the uvea. 

What is the importance of the uvea?

The uvea contains many blood vessels— the veins, arteries, and capillaries—that carry blood to and from the eye. Since the uvea nourishes many important parts of the eye (such as the retina), inflammation of the uvea can damage your sight.

What are the symptoms of uveitis?

Symptoms of uveitis include

  • light sensitivity;
  • blurred vision;
  • pain;
  • floaters;
  • redness of the eye.

Uveitis may develop suddenly with redness and pain or with a painless blurring of your vision. 

A case of simple “red eye” may in fact be a serious problem of uveitis. If your eye becomes red or painful, you should be examined and treated by an ophthalmologist (Eye M.D.). What causes uveitis? 

Uveitis has many different causes
  • virus, such as shingles, mumps, or herpes simplex;
  • a fungus, such as histoplasmosis;
  • a parasite, such as toxoplasmosis;
  • related disease in other parts of the body, such as arthritis, gastrointestinal disease, or collagen vascular disease such as lupus;
  • a result of injury to the eye.

Most cases of uveitis, the cause of the disease remains unknown.

How is uveitis diagnosed?

A careful eye examination by an ophthalmologist is extremely important when symptoms occur. Inflammation inside the eye can permanently affect sight or even lead to blindness if it is not treated. 

Your ophthalmologist will examine the inside of your eye. He or she may order blood tests, skin tests, or x-rays to help make the diagnosis. 

Since uveitis can be associated with disease in other parts of the body, your ophthalmologist will want to know about your overall health. He or she may want to consult with your primary care physician or other medical specialists. 

Are there different kinds of uveitis?

There are different types of uveitis, depending on which part of the eye is affected. 

When the uvea is inflamed near the front of the eye in the iris, it is called iritis. Iritis has a sudden onset and may last six to eight weeks. 

If the uvea is inflamed in the middle of the eye, it is called cyclitis. Cyclitis affects the muscle that focuses the lens. Cyclitis can also develop suddenly and can last for several months. 

An inflammation in the back of the eye is called choroiditis. Choroiditis is slower to develop and may last longer.

How is uveitis treated?

Uveitis is a serious eye condition that may scar the eye. It needs to be treated as soon as possible. 

Uveitis treatment including eyedrops, especially corticosteroids and pupil dilators, can reduce inflammation and pain. For more severe inflammation, oral medication or injections may be necessary. 

Uveitis can be associated with these complications:
  • glaucoma (increased pressure in the eye);
  • cataract (clouding of the eye’s natural lens);
  • neovascularization (growth of new, abnormal blood vessels);
  • damage to the retina, including retinal detachment.

These complications also may need treatment with eyedrops, conventional surgery, or laser surgery. 

If you have a “red eye” that does not clear up quickly, contact your ophthalmologist.

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