What is uveitis?
Uveitis is an inflammation of the middle layer of the eye, called the uvea or uveal tract. Despite being uncommon, uveitis is a leading cause of visual impairment in the UK. This is why it's very important to confirm a diagnosis of uveitis as soon as possible if you develop symptoms that could be related to the condition.
Uveitis usually affects people aged 20 to 59, but it can also occur in children. It's estimated that two to five in every 10,000 people will be affected by uveitis in the UK every year. Men and women are affected equally.
Treatment of the condition is difficult, extended and can cause significant side effects.
Types of uveitis
The type of uveitis depends on which part of the eye is affected:
- anterior uveitis– this is inflammation of the iris (iritis) or inflammation of the iris and the ciliary body (iridocyclitis), and is the most common type of uveitis, accounting for about three out of four cases
- intermediate uveitis– this affects the area behind the ciliary body and the retina
- posterior uveitis– this affects the area at the back of the eye, the choroid and the retina
In some cases, uveitis can affect the front and back of the eye. This is known as panuveitis.
Causes of uveitis
There are a wide range of potential causes for uveitis. Many cases are thought to be the result of a problem with the immune system (the body's defence against illness and infection), although a specific cause is not always identified.
Less common causes of uveitis include an infection or injury to the eye.
Symptoms of uveitis
The uvea is made up of the iris (coloured part of the eye), the ciliary body (ring of muscle behind the iris) and the choroid (layer of tissue that supports the retina).
Inflammation to the uvea leads to these common signs of uveitis:
- pain in one or both eyes
- redness of the eye
- blurred vision
- sensitivity to light (photophobia)
- floaters (shadows that move across your field of vision)
Contact your GP or optometrist as soon as possible if you have persistent eye pain or you notice an unusual change in your vision, particularly if you've had previous episodes of uveitis.
The sooner uveitis is diagnosed, the more likely the condition can be successfully treated.
After examining your eye, your GP may refer you to a specialist in eye conditions called an ophthalmologist. An ophthalmologist will examine your eye in more detail and may suggest further tests to help identify the cause of the condition.
Treatment for uveitis
The main treatment of uveitis is steroid medication, which can reduce inflammation inside the eye.
Several different types of steroid medication may be used, depending on the type of uveitis you have. Eye drops are often used for uveitis affecting the front of the eye, whereas injections, tablets and capsules are more often used to treat uveitis affecting the middle and back of the eye.
In some cases, other treatments may also be needed in addition to corticosteroids. These include eye drops to relieve pain, a type of medication called an immunosuppressant, and even surgery.
Although most cases of uveitis respond quickly to treatment and cause no further problems, there is a risk of complications. The risk is higher in people who have intermediate or posterior uveitis, or who have repeated episodes of uveitis. Complications include permanent damage of the eye and some loss of vision.