Uveitis describes a group of inflammatory diseases that produce swelling and damage to the eye tissues. These diseases can affect your vision or lead to severe vision loss so need to be treated properly.
- Uveitis is swelling and damage to your eye tissues caused by inflammation.
- It can be difficult to work out what has caused this inflammation, but it may be caused by an infection, bruising, toxins or an autoimmune attack.
- Symptoms include blurred vision, eye pain, sensitivity to light, as well as dark floating spots in your vision.
- If left untreated, uveitis can lead to vision loss, so it's important to see your doctor if you have these symptoms.
- Medication is the most common treatment for uveitis.
What causes uveitis?
Uveitis is caused by inflammatory responses inside your eye. Inflammation is the body’s natural response to tissue damage, germs or toxins. White blood cells rush to the affected part of your body to contain or eliminate the threat. This causes swelling, redness and heat, and destroys tissues in the area.
In many cases the exact cause is unknown. However, it can be caused by:
- an attack from the body’s own immune system (autoimmunity)
- infections or tumours occurring within your eye or in other parts of your body
- bruises to your eye
- toxins that may penetrate your eye.
What are the types of uveitis?
Uveitis is usually classified by where it occurs in your eye. The different types of uveitis include:
- anterior uveitis or iritis – this mainly affects the iris and is the most common type of uveitis
- intermediate uveitis – this mainly affects the ciliary body (a part of the eye that controls the shape of the lens), although it may also affect the retina (a thin layer of tissue that lines the back of the eye on the inside)
- posterior uveitis – this affects the back of the eye
- panuveitis – this affects the middle layer of the eye.
What are the symptoms of uveitis?
Common symptoms of uveitis include:
- blurred vision
- dark, floating spots in your vision (floaters)
- eye pain
- sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- redness of your eye.
See your doctor as soon as possible if you have any of the above symptoms.
What are the risk factors for uveitis?
Autoimmune disorders and infections can increase your risk of getting uveitis. These include:
- ankylosing spondylitis
- Behcet’s syndrome
- CMV retinitis
- herpes zoster infection
- Kawasaki disease
- multiple sclerosis
- reactive arthritis
- rheumatoid arthritis
- ulcerative colitis
- Vogt Koyanagi Harada’s disease.
How is uveitis diagnosed?
If you are concerned that you might have uveitis, it is important to see your doctor or optometrist for an eye examination. They are able to detect eye diseases and help determine what is causing your eye symptoms.
You can also contact an eye specialist (ophthalmologist) directly for this type of examination or to have your eyes assessed and treated. Many eye care providers have lots of information available about uveitis and other eye diseases on their websites.
Your eye specialist can see if you have uveitis by doing a thorough eye examination. This may include the following:
An eye test
You will be asked to read letters from different rows of a chart. This measures how well you see at certain distances.
An examination of the inside of your eye
In this test, drops are put in your eye to make your pupil (the hole in the centre of your eye) wider (dilate). A special magnifying lens is used to look inside your eye to see if you have a uveitis and how bad it is.
A tonometry test
In this test, an instrument is used to measure the pressure inside your eye. This test checks for other eye problems, such as glaucoma.
If you have uveitis, your doctor will do further tests including x-rays or blood tests to find out the cause of your uveitis.
What is the treatment for uveitis?
Although uveitis cannot be cured, it can usually be stopped from getting any worse. Treatment aims to control the signs and symptoms and prevent complications. Treatment depends on the types of uveitis you have or if you have any underlying disease that is causing your uveitis. Usually treatment of uveitis consists of:
- steroids (eye drops, pills or injections around your eye) to reduce inflammation
- immunosuppresive agents (pills) to reduce inflammation by targeting your immune system.
In some rare cases, surgery may be needed.