Uveitis is an internal inflammation of the eye. Arthritis is an inflammation of our joints. Think of uveitis (or iritis) as arthritis of the eye.
Intraocular inflammation is not a common condition, but is a condition that every eye doctor sees several times a year. Many times, a retina specialist is referred patients with uveitis. There are subspecialists who treat ocular inflammation, but they number far fewer compared to the number of retina specialists.
The uvea is a part of the eye consisting of 3 parts;
- Iris – the colored portion of our eye, it forms the pupil
- Ciliary Body – the tissue which makes the aqueous humor
- Choroid – a deep layer of the retina
Each part may become inflamed. More specific names are based upon the location of the inflammation or part of uvea involved, for instance;
- Anterior Uveitis – also known as iritis, is usually referred to as inflammation of only the iris
- Intermediate Uveitis implies inflammation of the ciliary body, with or without inflammation of the iris
- Posterior Uveitis involves inflammation limited to the choroid, the deep layer of the retina
Symptoms of Uveitis
Symptoms can include redness, blurry vision, sensitivity to light and pain. Symptoms vary depending upon the location of the inflammation. For example, anterior uveitis (or iritis) usually is associated with more pain as the iris and ciliary body are quite sensitive.
There are very few nerve endings underneath the retina, hence, inflammation of the choroid is often without pain.
The cornea can become swollen leading to loss of vision and additional sensitivity to light. Cataracts are known to occur, increased eye pressure, hypotony (very low eye pressure) in chronic cases, retinal swelling and retinal detachment (not due to a retinal tear) are also possible.
Most cases are not too complicated and localized to the front of the eye, but complete examination is necessary to assess the extent of the inflammation and amount of damage.
Trauma is probably the most common cause of inflammation, in the form of iritis (anterior inflammation). There are technically dozens of systemic diseases associated with uveitis, but most cases of uveitis have no known association with a disease.
Viral, fungal and bacterial infections are occasionally to blame. Uveitis is often recurrent.
Steroids are the preferred treatment for any inflammation and the same is true for the treatment of ocular inflammation.
Topical drops, pills and injections of steroids are all possible. Drops are usually preferred, but in more severe cases pills and injections are necessary.
More serious conditions may require immunosuppressive medications and the efforts of several docs including a retina specialist.