Uveitis

What is Uveitis?

Uveitis is a general term describing a group of inflammatory diseases that produces swelling and destroys eye tissues. These diseases can slightly reduce vision or lead to severe vision loss.

The term “uveitis” is used because the diseases often affect a part of the eye called the uvea. Nevertheless, uveitis is not limited to the uvea. These diseases also affect the lens, retina, optic nerve, and vitreous, producing reduced vision or blindness.

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Uveitis may be caused by problems or diseases occurring in the eye or it can be part of an inflammatory disease affecting other parts of the body.

It can happen at all ages and primarily affects people between 20 and 60 years old.

Uveitis can last for a short (acute) or a long (chronic) time. The severest forms of uveitis reoccur many times.

Eye doctors  may describe the disease more specifically as:

  • Anterior uveitis
  • Intermediate uveitis
  • Posterior uveitis
  • Panuveitis uveitis

Symptoms of uveitis include:

  • eye pain – usually a dull ache in or around your eye, which may be worse on focusing
  • eye redness
  • sensitivity to light (photophobia)
  • blurred or cloudy vision
  • small shapes moving across your field of vision
  • loss of peripheral vision (the ability to see objects at the side of your field of vision)

The symptoms can develop suddenly or gradually over a few days. One or both eyes may be affected by uveitis.

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Treating uveitis

Steroid medication is the main treatment for uveitis. It can help reduce inflammation inside your eye.  Different types of steroid medication are recommended depending on the type of uveitis. For example:

  • eyedrops are often used for uveitis that affects the front of the eye (anterior)
  • injections, tablets and capsules are usually used to treat uveitis that affects the middle and back of the eye (intermediate and posterior)

Additional treatment may also be needed. This might be eyedrops to relieve pain, a type of medicine known as an immunosuppressant or, in some cases, surgery.

What causes uveitis?

Many cases of uveitis are linked to a problem with the immune system (the body’s defence against illness and infection). For unknown reasons, the immune system can become overactive in the eye.

Less often, uveitis can be caused by an infection or an eye injury  and it can also occur after eye surgery. In some cases a cause can’t be identified.

Complications of uveitis

Uveitis can sometimes lead to further problems, particularly if it isn’t treated quickly and properly.

You’re more likely to develop complications if:

  • you’re over 60
  • you have long-term (chronic) uveitis
  • you have less common types of uveitis that affect the middle or back of the eye (intermediate or posterior uveitis)

Some of the more common complications of uveitis include:

Glaucoma– where the optic nerve, which connects your eye to your brain, becomes damaged: it can lead to loss of vision if not detected and treated early on

Cataracts  where changes in the lens of the eye cause it to become less transparent, resulting in cloudy or misty vision

Cystoid macular oedema – swelling of the retina (the thin, light-sensitive layer of tissue at the back of the eye): it can affect some people with long-term or posterior uveitis

Detached retina– when the retina begins to pull away from the blood vessels that supply it with oxygen and nutrients

Posterior synechiae – inflammation that causes the iris to stick to the lens of the eye: it’s more likely to occur if uveitis isn’t treated quickly

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