Uveitis is an inflammation of the uvea (or uveal layer) – the middle layer of three that make up the eye. It may be infectious or noninfectious. It is a treatable condition; however, without proper treatment, it can lead to other complications including glaucoma, cataracts, optic nerve damage, retinal detachment and severe vision loss.
The uvea is a vascular, fibrous layer that protects the eye, and is critical to nutrient and gas exchange. It consists of three parts: the iris, ciliary body, and the choroid. When any part of the uvea becomes inflamed, it is called uveitis. There are several types of uveitis, each affecting different parts of the uvea.
Types of Uveitis
Anterior uveitis – The most common form of uveitis, it affects the iris and its surrounding tissue, the ciliary body both of which are located in the front of the eye. Anterior uveitis is sometimes referred to as iritis because the iris is the part of the uvea that is usually inflamed.
Intermediate uveitis – Another form of uveitis, it affects the area just behind the ciliary body (pars plana) and also the most forward edge of the retina. This is the least common type of uveitis.
Posterior uveitis – A rare form of the disorder that affects the back part of the eye, the choroid, and can affect the retina and/or optic nerve. This form is more difficult to treat, and is often associated with progressive loss of vision.
Pan-uveitis - When inflammation affects all three areas of the uvea it is referred to as pan-uveitis.
Intermediate, posterior and pan-uveitis are very serious conditions and may cause blindness if left untreated. If you experience any of the symptoms below, contact your eye care professional immediately.
What Causes Uveitis?
Uveitis may come on suddenly with redness and pain, or it may be slow in onset with little pain or redness, but gradual blurring of vision. Symptoms of uveitis may include:
- Light sensitivity
- Blurring of vision
- Pain in the eye
- Redness of the eye
- Floaters in the eye
- Decreased vision
If you experience these symptoms it is important to schedule an exam with your eye care professional immediately.
Treatments for Uveitis
When treated promptly, uveitis typically responds well. The first goal is to decrease the inflammation in the eye in a way that balances the potential risk of treatment. Treatments of uveitis may include:
- Prescription eye drops in combination with anti-inflammatory medications. Eye drops may not penetrate well to the back of the eye, so this type of treatment may not work in posterior uveitis.
- Ocular anti-inflammatory injections - injections may be to the outside or inside of the eye. This treatment may be uncomfortable, yet very effective in acute episodes of uveitis.
- Systemic or oral administration of steroids, other immunosuppressant or anti-metabolite drugs.
- Surgical procedures may be needed to replace the vitreous (or gel-like area) or to implant a device in the eye for slow-release of corticosteroid medication
Some medications can have serious side effects. Follow-up exams, including eye exams and possible blood tests, are important and may be needed every 1-3 months. Talk to your eye care professional about any concerns you have.
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