Uveitis is a broad term that describes a host of diseases that cause inflammation of the eye. The term comes from the word uvea (which refers to a layer inside the eye that includes the choroid, ciliary body and iris) and the root, “itis,” which means inflammation. Uveitis can include inflammation of all parts of the uvea, or only part of it. If uveitis is confined to the iris, it is called anterior uveitis or iritis.
Common symptoms of uveitis include red eyes, painful eyes, light sensitivity (photophobia) and blurry vision.
What Causes Uveitis?
Uveitis may be caused by a myriad of different conditions including:
- Previous injury to the eye
- Infection inside from a long list of bacteria or viruses (including herpes and tuberculosis)
- Most commonly, an autoimmune disease, caused by a process where the body misidentifies part of itself and “attacks” this misidentified part as foreign. The “attack” takes the form of white blood cells and inflammatory substances which react as if the tissue they are attacking doesn’t belong and needs to be removed or walled-off. Some autoimmune diseases affect only the eye. Others affect the eye and may or may not affect other parts of the body at the same time.
How Is Uveitis Treated?
Uveitis is a serious condition that needs careful medical therapy in order to prevent serious complications, such as vision loss from glaucoma, cataract, and/or macular edema. Uveitis can usually be treated and put into remission, but is often not “curable” permanently. Steroid drops, pills, or injections are usually the first line of treatment for uveitis; however, stronger disease-modifying immunosuppressive medicines are often needed as well. These medicines include conventional drugs such as cyclosporine, methotrexate, and azathioprine or biologics such as adalimumab, infliximab, and etanercept. These immunosuppressive medicines are commonly used in other rheumatologic autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis or psoriasis. Careful monitoring of several blood tests is important in persons taking these powerful medicines.