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.
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.
Uveitis has many different causes:
- A 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.
In most cases of uveitis, the cause of the disease remains unknown.
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.).
- Symptoms of uveitis include:
- Light sensitivity
- Blurred vision
- Redness of the eye
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.
Uveitis is a serious eye condition that may scar the eye. It needs to be treated as soon as possible.
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.
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.
If uveitis is caused by an underlying condition, treatment will focus on that specific condition. The goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation in your eye. Several treatment options are available.
Drugs that reduce inflammation. Your doctor may first prescribe eyedrops with an anti-inflammatory medication, such as a corticosteroid. If those don’t help, a corticosteroid pill or injection may be the next step.
Drugs that fight bacteria or viruses. If uveitis is caused by an infection, your doctor may prescribe antibiotics, antiviral medications or other medicines, with or without corticosteroids, to bring the infection under control.
Drugs that affect the immune system or destroy cells. You may need immunosuppressive or cytotoxic drugs if your uveitis affects both eyes, doesn’t respond well to corticosteroids or becomes severe enough to threaten your vision.
Some of these medications can have serious side effects, such as glaucoma and cataracts. You may need to visit your doctor for follow-up examinations and blood tests every 1 to 3 months.
Vitrectomy. Surgery to remove some of the vitreous in your eye (vitrectomy) may be necessary to manage the condition.
Surgery that implants a device into the eye to provide a slow and sustained release of a medication. For people with difficult-to-treat posterior uveitis, a device that’s implanted in the eye may be an option. This device slowly releases corticosteroid medication into the eye for two to three years. Possible side effects of this treatment include cataracts and glaucoma.
The speed of your recovery depends in part on the type of uveitis you have and the severity of your symptoms. Uveitis that affects the back of your eye (choroiditis) tends to heal more slowly than uveitis in the front of the eye (iritis). Severe inflammation takes longer to clear up than mild inflammation does.
Uveitis can return. Contact us at Retina Specialists of Tampa to make an appointment with your doctor if any of your symptoms reappear after successful treatment.