Uveitis is an inflammation of the uvea, the middle layer of the eye between the white part and the retina. Many blood vessels that nourish the eye are found in the uvea. The uvea includes the iris, and inflammation of the iris is the most common type of uveitis. Inflammation of the iris is called iritis or anterior uveitis.
Inflammation of the uvea can lead to loss of vision. Getting an early diagnosis and quick treatment is important to make sure you don’t have any permanent vision loss. You should always get conventional medical treatment for uveitis to avoid any complications.
Signs and Symptoms
Uveitis may affect one or both eyes. Signs and symptoms include:
- Eye pain
- Red eye
- Sensitivity to light
- Blurred or decreased vision
- Floaters, dark spots in your vision
What Causes It?
Researchers aren’t sure what causes uveitis. It can happen suddenly (acute) or long-term (chronic). Uveitis affects men and women equally. It can happen at any age, but most often in the 20s.
Some possible causes of uveitis include injury to the eye, such as chemical exposure; an infection such as toxoplasmosis or herpes; or some cancers.
Uveitis is also associated with autoimmune diseases, including Reiter syndrome, multiple sclerosis, juvenile rheumatoid arthritis, Crohn's disease, and sarcoidosis.
Who's Most At Risk?
People with the following conditions or characteristics are at risk for uveitis:
- Having an autoimmune disease such as rheumatoid arthritis or Crohn's disease
- Having infections such as syphilis, tuberculosis, cytomegalovirus, and Lyme disease
- Having other eye diseases
- Cat owners are at increased risk of toxoplasmosis because cat litter contains spores of the parasite. Pregnant women should not change cat litter.
- People who take certain medications, such as rifabutin (Mycobutin), a type of antibiotic
What to Expect at Your Provider's Office
If you have symptoms of uveitis, you should see your doctor right away. Your doctor will do a complete physical exam and check for signs of other diseases, such as joint problems, mouth sores, rash, and nail pitting. Your doctor will also examine your eyes and may order laboratory tests and imaging. Your doctor may refer you to an ophthalmologist, an eye specialist.
Your health care provider can screen for uveitis during a regular eye exam. If you have any underlying conditions, treating them can help prevent uveitis. Avoiding some medications, such as the antibiotic rifabutin, may also help prevent uveitis.
You need quick treatment from a doctor so that your vision isn't permanently damaged. Warm compresses may help relieve symptoms. Sunglasses can protect your eyes if they are sensitive to light.
Your health care provider may prescribe the following medications:
Corticosteroids -- to reduce swelling and pain. Your doctor may prescribe either eyedrops or pills.
Antibiotics or antiviral medications -- depending on what is causing your uveitis
Non-steroidal anti-inflammatory drugs (NSAIDs) -- to reduce inflammation
Medications to suppress the immune system -- in cases where corticosteroids don't help
Surgical and Other Procedures
You may need surgery to repair any damage to the eyes. Uveitis can cause cataracts, glaucoma, or a detached retina.
Complementary and Alternative Therapies
Uveitis needs conventional medical treatment. Don't rely on CAM therapies alone to treat uveitis. Depending on what is causing your uveitis, CAM therapies may help treat an underlying disease. And some herbs and supplements are good for eye health.
Tell your health care provider about any herbs and supplements you use or plan to use.
Nutrition and Supplements
Eating more antioxidant-rich foods is good for eye health and your overall health. Choose green, leafy vegetables and peppers, and fruits such as blueberries, tomatoes, and cherries.
These supplements may also help:
- A multivitamin daily, containing the antioxidant vitamins A, C, E, the B vitamins, and trace minerals, such as magnesium, calcium, zinc, and selenium. These vitamins and minerals are good for eye health and overall health. One small study suggested that vitamin C and E may help reduce symptoms of anterior uveitis. The people in the study took vitamin C (500 mg twice a day) and vitamin E (100 mg twice a day) in addition to standard medical treatment. Vitamin C supplements may interact with other medications, including chemotherapy drugs, estrogen, warfarin (Coumadin), and others. Vitamin E may interact with a number of medications, including blood thinners.
- Omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish oil, may help lower inflammation and boost the immune system. Cold-water fish, such as salmon or halibut, are good sources. Avoid taking omega-3 fatty acids before surgery for uveitis as they may increase the risk of bleeding. Tell your doctor before taking omega-3 fatty acids if you also take blood-thinning medications, such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or clopidogrel (Plavix).
- Lutein is an antioxidant that is important for eye health.
Herbs are a way to strengthen and tone the body's systems. As with any therapy, you should work with your health care provider to diagnose your problem before starting any treatment. If you're being treated for uveitis, tell all of your health care providers about any herbs you're considering taking.
Turmeric (Curcuma longa) -- has antioxidant properties and may help boost the immune system. One small study suggested turmeric may help reduce symptoms of chronic uveitis, but the study was not well designed. Turmeric may increase the risk of bleeding. Ask your doctor before taking turmeric if you also take blood-thinning medication, such as aspirin, warfarin (Coumadin), or clopidogrel.
Homeopathic remedies have not been studied scientifically for uveitis. An experienced homeopath could consider your individual case and may recommend treatments to help relieve your specific symptoms.
You stand a good chance of full recovery if your uveitis is diagnosed and treated early. Depending on what’s causing your uveitis, you may need short-term or long-term treatment. Possible complications include glaucoma, cataracts, vision loss, and detached retina.
Your health care provider may examine your eyes with a slit lamp, which allows a magnified look at small sections of your cornea, iris, and lens. Your health care provider will also measure the pressure within your eye every 1 - 7 days while your uveitis is active.
A follow-up appointment every 1 - 6 months is generally recommended. Your health care provider will tell you when you should come back.
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- Last reviewed on 7/7/2012
- Steven D. Ehrlich, NMD, Solutions Acupuncture, a private practice specializing in complementary and alternative medicine, Phoenix, AZ. Review provided by VeriMed Healthcare Network.
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