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What is uveitis?

Uveitis is inflammation of the uvea, which is a tissue inside the eye. The uvea is made up of three parts:

  • the iris (the colored part of the eye that surrounds the pupil)
  • the ciliary body (a muscle that helps the eye focus and makes the fluid that fills the front of the eye)
  • the choroid (the layer of tissue in the back of the eye, behind the retina)

Inflammation can affect any or all of these parts. Symptoms, treatment, and effects are different depending on which parts of the eye are affected.

How does it occur?

Most of the time, the cause of uveitis is not known. It can be related to autoimmune diseases that affect other parts of the body, such as sarcoidosis and some types of arthritis. Less often, infections like herpes, syphilis, or Lyme disease can cause uveitis.

What are the symptoms?

Uveitis that involves the front part of the eye has the following symptoms:

  • painful sensitivity to light
  • redness
  • deep or dull aching pain
  • reduced vision

These symptoms may happen in just one eye. They tend to appear suddenly and worsen quickly.

When the middle or back part of the eye is affected, the only symptom may be problems with your vision. You may see floaters (specks in your field of vision that look like little bugs or threads). Both eyes may be affected but not to the same degree.

How is it diagnosed?

Your eye care provider will ask about your symptoms and examine your eyes. Usually he or she will dilate (enlarge) your pupils to better see the inside of your eye. Your eye care provider will look closely to see which parts of your eye are inflamed. You may need blood tests or X-rays to check for other diseases.

How is it treated?

The goal of treatment is to reduce the inflammation in your eye and make you more comfortable.

If the inflammation is caused by an infection, you will be given medicines to treat the infection and steroid medicines to control the inflammation.

You may start using steroid medicine as eyedrops. If the eyedrops do not help, you may be given pills to take by mouth or shots around or into the eye. Corticosteroids may cause cataracts or high eye pressure. Uveitis itself can also cause cataracts and high eye pressure. Your provider will check your progress closely.

As the inflammation is brought under control, your provider will have you gradually stop using the drops and pills. It is very important to follow your provider’s instructions closely. A sudden decrease in these medicines can cause the inflammation to come back.

If the inflammation is so severe that you need to take high doses of steroids or if the steroids are not helping enough, you may need to take another type of medicine called an immunosuppressant. You will be watched closely for side effects. You will need to have blood tests regularly.

Some people need surgery to implant a tiny pellet of steroid medicine in the eye. The implant slowly delivers the medicine for several months. Ask your provider about this.

How long will the effects last?

The effects of uveitis depend on its cause. When the cause can be found and treated, you may not have any long-term effects. When uveitis is related to a problem that affects other parts of your body, the effects will last until you get proper treatment for that problem.

Uveitis may come back. See your eye care provider promptly if any of your symptoms return. If it is not treated, uveitis can cause problems such as:

  • high pressure inside the eye and permanent damage to the optic nerve
  • cataracts (clouding of the lens of the eye)
  • clouding of the cornea
  • abnormal blood vessels inside the eye
  • decrease or loss of vision

How can I help prevent uveitis?

Because the cause is usually not known, most cases probably cannot be prevented. Be sure to get treatment for medical problems that may cause uveitis.

Reviewed for medical accuracy by faculty at the Wilmer Eye Institute at Johns Hopkins. Web site:
Developed by RelayHealth.
Published by RelayHealth.
Last modified: 2011-07-20
Last reviewed: 2010-10-27
This content is reviewed periodically and is subject to change as new health information becomes available. The information is intended to inform and educate and is not a replacement for medical evaluation, advice, diagnosis or treatment by a healthcare professional.
© 2011 RelayHealth and/or its affiliates. All rights reserved.
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