Have you ever seen someone with bloodshot, swollen eyes? That person may be suffering from uveitis. According to the National Eye Institute (NEI), this is a blanket term that is used to denote “a group of inflammatory diseases that produces swelling and destroys eye tissues.” The same source cautions that the diseases can reduce vision and, if left untreated, lead to severe vision loss.
Thankfully, there are effective treatment methods to help get rid of swollen eyes. Before we explain that, however, we need to understand what the disease is in the first place.
What is uveitis?
The American Academy of Ophthalmology (AAO) says, “Uveitis occurs when the middle layer of the eyeball gets inflamed (red and swollen).”
Majority of uveitis cases occur within the uvea, the middle layer of the eye. It is also for this reason that the disease gets its name. The uvea contains three important structures, namely: the iris, the ciliary body, and the choroid. When people ask about the color of your eye, they are primarily talking about the color of your iris, as this is the colored portion on the front of your eye. On the other hand, the ciliary body keeps your lens healthy and helps you focus your vision. Lastly, the choroid is a group of blood vessels that bring nutrients into your retina.
However, while most cases occur within the uvea, some affect other parts of the eye such as the lens, optic nerve, retina, and vitreous. Since there are many blood vessels in the eye, swelling can, therefore, result in damage to vital eye tissue and trigger irreversible vision loss.
Symptoms of the disease can come and go. Some manifest and then worsen rapidly. It can affect just one or both eyes, and primarily affects adults between the ages of 20 to 50, but may also affect children.
There are three primary types of uveitis, and treatment of which depends on where you have it. Its types are:
- Anterior uveitis – This is the most common kind of the disease, which affects the front of the eye. The symptoms can last up to 8 weeks. Some cases are chronic, while some go away after a certain period but would keep on coming back.
- Intermediate uveitis – This refers to swelling in the ciliary body or the middle of the eye. Similar to anterior uveitis, this can last anytime from a few weeks, but may progress to years. It can also go through cycles wherein you will feel better, but then it will worsen.
- Posterior uveitis – This affects the back of the eye, wherein the symptoms can develop gradually. Like the two cases above, this too can last for several years.
What causes uveitis?
Like many diseases, doctors are uncertain what exactly causes uveitis. However, some of its more prominent causes are:
- An autoimmune disorder, such as ankylosing spondylitis and sarcoidosis
- A systemic inflammatory disorder, such as inflammatory bowel disorder, lupus, ulcerative colitis and Crohn’s disease
- Infections, like herpes simplex virus, Lyme disease, and syphilis
- Exposure to parasites, such as toxoplasmosis
- Eye injury or surgery
- Cancer that affects the eye, like lymphoma
In terms of risk factors, smokers are at further risk of developing the disease. Meanwhile, some people with changes in certain genes can also develop it.
What are its symptoms?
Since vision problems can affect sensitive parts of the eye, anyone is encouraged to visit an ophthalmologist should they experience eye pain, changes in vision, or severe light sensitivity. These symptoms are not exclusive to uveitis and may also be true for most vision problems.
Aside from these three, common symptoms of uveitis include the following:
- Eye redness
- Blurred or decreased vision
This is best explained by the NEI when it said that the symptoms of the disease would depend on where the inflammation is. The symptoms are:
- Acute anterior uveitis – eye pain, small pupil, sensitivity to light, redness;
- Intermediate uveitis – floats, blurred vision. Oftentimes does not manifest with pain;
- Posterior uveitis – only detected by an eye examination.
How is it treated?
The first step to treating uveitis is understanding what is causing it. If it is caused by an underlying condition, then your doctor will focus on that condition. The overall goal of doctors will be to reduce the inflammation in the eye before it can progress further.
Common treatment methods are:
- Anti-inflammatory eye drops – Usually a corticosteroid, these eyedrops are supposed to reduce the inflammation in the eye. If you do not respond to this treatment, then your doctor can prescribe a corticosteroid injection or pill.
- Anti-bacterial medications – If the swelling is caused by an infection, then your doctor will most probably prescribe antibiotics or other forms of antiviral medications.
- Immunosuppressant – If the swelling does not subside with any drugs, then it may be time to use drugs that destroy cells or affect the immune system. This is oftentimes prescribed last if the problem persists and your vision is already compromised.
If the medications do not work, then surgery may be given as an option. One of the procedures is called vitrectomy, wherein the doctor will draw some of the gel or the vitreous in your eye to reduce the inflammation. On the other hand, a device may be implanted into the eye for the slow and sustained release of medication.
Many of the treatment methods above can have side effects, such as glaucoma or cataracts.
What happens now?
While the treatment methods can become daunting, particularly when it comes to the surgical intervention, it is still worth pointing out that uveitis is generally treatable. Early detection of the swelling increases the likelihood that its effects can be reversed.
For this reason, it only makes sense that regular checkups to ensure your vision health is a must. Arizona Retinal Specialists offers a wide range of treatments to combat uveitis as well as other vision problems. What’s more, we offer comprehensive eye exams to ensure that your eye is in the pink of health. Call us today at 623-474-3937 to know more about our services.