To understand uveitis, it is helpful to understand the anatomy of the eye. Shaped like a tennis ball, the eye is made up of three different layers of tissue.  These layers surround the central gel-filled cavity. The outer layer is the sclera (the white of the eye); the middle layer is the uvea; and the innermost layer is the retina. The uvea contains many blood vessels that carry blood to and from the eye. The iris is part of the uvea and is the colored part of the eye.  It is located behind the cornea, or clear surface of the eye.  Uveitis is when the uvea becomes inflamed. This inflammation can cause pain and/or loss of sight.

There are a number of symptoms of uveitis, including:
  • Pain
  • Floaters
  • Light sensitivity
  • Redness of the eye
  • Blurred vision
Uveitis can be caused by many different things, such as:
  • An infection (fungus, parasite, virus, and bacterial)
  • An eye injury or surgery
  • As a result of other diseases in other parts of the body (arthritis, lupus, etc.)
  • A malignancy (cancer)
However, in most individuals, the cause of uveitis is unknown.
Types of Uveitis

There are different kinds of uveitis and they are determined by the area of the eye affected. If the iris is inflamed, it is called iritis, which develops suddenly and may last 6-8 weeks. If the middle of the uvea is inflamed, it is called cyclitis, which affects the muscle that focuses the lens. It also can develop suddenly and can last for several months. If the back part of the eye is inflamed, it is called choroiditis. This type of uveitis develops more slowly, but can last longer.

How is uveitis diagnosed?

The most important method of properly treating uveitis is to first determine its cause.  An eye doctor will conduct a thorough eye exam.  This may be in conjunction with an extensive medical history questionnaire.   It is important to be examined as soon as any symptoms occur. If left untreated, the inflammation can permanently affect your eyesight or can even lead to blindness. In addition to a comprehensive eye exam, blood tests, skin tests and X-rays may be performed to make an accurate diagnosis.  Rarely, biopsies are taken to assist in the diagnosis.

How is uveitis treated?

It is important for uveitis to be treated as soon as possible to avoid scarring to the eye. Eye drops and pupil dilators are often used to reduce inflammation and pain. In more severe cases, oral medications or injections may be used to reduce inflammation.  Since uveitis can be a multifactorial disease, often a "team" approach is required among your eye specialist and primary care physician.

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