Suffer from red, painful eyes? Sensitivity to light or blurred vision? You may wonder if the problem has something to do with allergies or too many late nights. But if you have an eye issue that comes on suddenly or is progressive with ongoing symptoms, it’s time to rule out an eye condition that can possibly damage your vision.
What is uveitis?
Uveitis is an eye condition that causes inflammation ranging from mild to severe, affecting one or more of the three major parts of the eye. The condition can affect any age group but is most common in adults with a higher prevalence in women. A person may notice blurred vision, discomfort, floaters or reduced vision. If inflammation is recurrent and chronic, eye damage can occur, resulting in vision loss.
Causing approximately 30,000 new cases of blindness each year in the United States, it’s important to diagnose and treat uveitis as early as possible. “Uveitis can come on gradually or rapidly depending on which type we may be seeing,” explains Steven Yeh, MD, Nebraska Medicine uveitis and retina specialist at the Truhlsen Eye Institute. “Both can cause vision changes, but acute cases may have more intense symptoms and should be assessed quickly.”
What causes uveitis?
Uveitis may be caused by an eye injury, infection in the eye, an autoimmune disease or a systemic inflammatory disorder that impacts the whole body. “Certain infections like shingles, herpes and other autoimmune conditions, or systemic inflammation conditions like arthritis can cause uveitis,” adds Dr. Yeh. “Sometimes eye inflammation can be the first manifestation of something systemic. It depends on how the symptoms appear and if they’re associated with other symptoms.”
While eye inflammation can have various causes, the type depends on which part of the eye’s uvea is affected. The uvea layer has many blood vessels that nourish the eye and uveitis can damage this vital eye tissue. Uveitis is not always limited to the uvea but can also affect the lens, retina, optic nerve and vitreous.
Anterior uveitis affects the front part of the eye and can manifest with eye pain, redness, light sensitivity and blurred vision. The most common type, anterior uveitis mainly affects the area around the eye’s iris and may occur in one or both eyes in adults. Anterior uveitis occurs most commonly between 20-40 years of age.
Intermediate uveitis affects the middle of the eye and is less common. Patients may notice floaters, shadows and blurred vision. While this type may cause some discomfort, it is not typically associated with pain and is most commonly seen in the young to middle-aged adults. Those with intermediate uveitis are more likely to have chronic inflammation.
Posterior uveitis affects the back of the eye, causing inflammation of the choroid and often involving the retina and optic nerve. While this type is typically chronic, it can be recurrent and cause vision loss.
Panuveitis affects the front and back of the eye and may include symptoms from anterior uveitis (redness, pain, light sensitivity) as well as blurred vision and floaters from posterior uveitis, sometimes with swelling of the retina.
What is involved with screening and treatment?
Uveitis diagnosis and treatment are essential for several reasons. First, to reduce the risk of damage to the eyes and vision loss. Second, if another untreated disease causes the condition, the patient is at risk of additional illness. The risk of not treating uveitis can include further vision decline and worsening symptoms. With retinal disease, the risk involves permanent vision loss if not treated appropriately.
Uveitis treatment depends on the type and what is causing it. “If it’s an infection caused by a virus, such as shingles, we’ll treat it with appropriate antiviral therapy,” explains Dr. Yeh. “If we find it’s caused by an autoimmune inflammatory condition, we’ll look at other treatments that can dampen the immune system around the eye.”
Uveitis screening may include any of the following for a proper diagnosis:
- A complete eye exam and medical history
- Discuss symptoms and impact on vision
- Check for visual acuity and field of vision
- Look at the location of the inflammation
- Diagnostic testing
- Funduscopic exam
- Ocular pressure exam
- Slit lamp biomicroscope exam looks for eye inflammation at the cellular level
- Optical coherence tomography (OCT) takes high-resolution images of the retina to check for swelling and circulation
- Fluorescein angiography
Eye care providers can care for patients with mild uveitis. Still, if they aren’t responding to treatment or if it involves the retina, it’s beneficial to reach out to a uveitis specialist for an evaluation to reduce the risk of vision loss.
The Truhlsen Eye Institute team of specialists offers a wide range of comprehensive eye care services, serving patients from pediatric to the elderly. Specialists partner with other doctors such as rheumatologists and infectious diseases specialists to always provide the best eye care possible. Innovative diagnostic tools are used to detect inflammation involving the back of the eye and circulation of the retina. The Truhlsen Eye Institute also cares for rare eye diseases, severe inflammatory disease, diseases associated with systemic conditions, issues with the retina and other conditions including:
• Floaters and shadows in your vision
• Retinal tears
• Retinal detachment
• Diabetic retinopathy
• Epiretinal membrane
• Macular hole
• Wet and dry macular degeneration
• Retinal vein occlusion
• Retinal artery occlusion
• Retinal degenerations and inherited retinal disorders
• Tumors of the eye
Treatment is effective for uveitis and other eye conditions and can often prevent vision loss, especially if treated early. “Each patient has their own journey with uveitis and other eye conditions or diseases,” says Dr. Yeh. “Sometimes it can be a quite challenging one of chronic disease and side effects over many years. We are here to help.”
If you’re struggling with an eye condition or disease and would like to make an appointment at the Truhlsen Eye Institute, please call 402.559.2020.