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, inflammation of the uvea can damage your sight.
The symptoms of uveitis include: light sensitivity, blurred vision, pain, floaters, and redness of the eye. Uveitis may develop suddenly with redness and pain or without 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.
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 inother parts of the body, such as arthritis, gastrointestinal disease or collagen vascular disease such as lupus
- a result of injury to th eye
If you smoke, stop. Studies has shown that smoking conrtibutes to the likelihood of developing uveitis. In most cases of uveitis, the cause of the disease remains unknown.
A careful eye examination by an ophthalmologist is extremely important when symptoms occur. Inflammation inside the syre 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 wth the 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.
There are different types of uveitis, depending on which part of the eye is affected.
When the uvea is inflammed 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 inlfammed in the middle of the eye, it is called pars planitis (or intermediate uveitis). Episodes of pars planitis can last between a few weeks to years. The disease goes through cycles of getting better, then worse.
An inflammation in the back of the eye is called posterior uveitis. Posterior uveitis can develop slowly and oftern lasts for many years.
Uveitis is a serious eye condition that may scar the eye. It needs to be treated as soon as possible.
Eyedrops, especially corticosteriods and pupil dilators, can reduce inflammation and pain. For more severe inflammation, oral medications or injections may be necessary.
Uveitis can be associated with these complications:
- glaucoma (increased prssure in the eye)
- cataract (clouding of the eye's natural lens)
- neovascularization (growth of new, abnormal blood vessels)
- damage to the retina, inlcluding retinal detachement
These complications may also need treatment with eyedrops, conventional surgery or laser surgery.
If you have a "red eye" that does not clear up quickly, contact your ophthalmolosit.